OBJECTIVE: To ascertain whether patients at discharge from a municipal teaching hospital knew their discharge diagnoses, treatment plan (names and purpose of their medications), and common side effects of prescribed medications. PATIENTS AND METHODS: From July to October 1999, we surveyed 47 consecutive patients at discharge from the medical service of a municipal teaching hospital in New York City (Brooklyn, NY). Patients were asked to state either the trade or the generic name(s) of their medication(s), their purpose, and the major side effect(s), as well as their discharge diagnoses. Patients were excluded if they were not oriented to person, place, and time, were unaware of the circumstances surrounding their admission to the hospital, and/or did not speak or understand English. RESULTS: Of the 47 patients surveyed, 4 were excluded. Of the remaining 43 patients, 12 (27.9%) were able to list all their medications, 16 (37.2%) were able to recount the purpose of all their medications, 6 (14.0%) were able to state the common side effect(s) of all their medications, and 18 (41.9%) were able to state their diagnosis or diagnoses. The mean number of medications prescribed at discharge was 3.89. CONCLUSIONS: Less than half of our study patients were able to list their diagnoses, the name(s) of their medication(s), their purpose, or the major side effect(s). Lacking awareness of these factors affects a patient’s ability to comply fully with discharge treatment plans. Whether lack of communication between physician and patient is actually the cause of patient unawareness of discharge instructions or if this even affects patient outcome requires further study.