BACKGROUND Discharge from the hospital is a critical transition point in a patient’s care. Incomplete handoffs at discharge can lead to adverse events for patients and result in avoidable rehospitalization. Care transitions are especially important for elderly patients and other high-risk patients who have multiple comorbidities. Standardizing the elements of the discharge process may help to address the gaps in quality and safety that occur when patients transition from the hospital to an outpatient setting. METHODS The Society of Hospital Medicine’s Hospital Quality and Patient Safety committee assembled a panel of care transition researchers, process improvement experts, and hospitalists to review the literature and develop a checklist of processes and elements required for ideal discharge of adult patients. The discharge checklist was presented at the Society of Hospital Medicine’s Annual Meeting in April 2005, where it was reviewed and revised by more than 120 practicing hospitalists and hospital-based nurses, case managers, and pharmacists. The final checklist was endorsed by the Society of Hospital Medicine. RESULTS The finalized checklist is a comprehensive list of the processes and elements considered necessary for optimal patient handoff at hospital discharge. This checklist focused on medication safety, patient education, and follow-up plans. CONCLUSIONS The development of content and process standards for discharge is the first step in improving the handoff of care from the inpatient to the posthospital setting. Refining this checklist for patients with specific diagnoses, in specific age categories, and with specific discharge destinations may further improve information transfer and ultimately affect patient outcomes.