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OBJECTIVE--To determine the effect of discharge information given to general practitioners on their management of newly discharged elderly patients. DESIGN--A random sample of 133 elderly patients who had unplanned readmission to a district general hospital within 28 days of discharge was compared with a matched control sample of patients who were not readmitted. Information was gathered from the hospital, the patients, the carers, and the general practitioners about the information that the hospital had sent the general practitioner and the general practitioners' response to this information. SETTING--All specialties in a district general hospital. PATIENTS--266 Patients aged over 65 representative in the main demographic indices of the population of elderly patients admitted to hospital. RESULTS--Ten weeks after discharge the doctors had received notice of discharge about 169 of the patients, but fewer than half the discharge notices were received within the first week. General practitioners were dissatisfied with the information in 60 cases. A general practitioner visited 174 of the patients after their discharge from hospital and three quarters of the visits took place within two weeks of the discharge. These visits were more likely to have been initiated by patients or families than by the doctor, and this was not influenced by the doctor receiving notice of the patient's discharge. Older patients and those who had carers were the most likely to be visited. Nearly half of the carers were dissatisfied with some aspect of general practitioner care, problems with home visiting being the commonest source of complaint. CONCLUSIONS--Hospital communications to general practitioners about the discharge of elderly patients still cause concern, particularly in the time they take to arrive. Written instruction to vulnerable elderly patients asking them to inform their general practitioner of the discharge might be helpful. Carers complained of lack of support, and it is clearly important for someone (either the general practitioner or another health worker) to visit elderly people shortly after their discharge.