Organizing the transfer of patient care information: the development of a computerized resident sign-out system

Surgery. 2004 Jul;136(1):5-13. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2004.04.018.


Background: The problem of safe and efficient transfer of care has increased over the years as new and complex diagnostic tools and more complex treatment options became available. Traditionally, residents ensured continuity of care by working long hours and minimizing the transfer of significant diagnostic or therapeutic responsibilities to other providers. The new 80-hour workweek has curtailed that practice and increased the pressure on trainees for workflow efficiency. We report on a study of information-handling routines among residents for the separate tasks of transfer of care ("sign-out") and daily patient care work (ward work). Using these results, an institution-wide computerized system was developed to centralize information-handling tasks and facilitate the management and transfer of patient care information.

Study design: House staff from 31 resident-run inpatient and consult services at 2 teaching hospitals described current methods of maintaining patient information used during ward rounds and during sign-out. A subgroup of 28 residents then participated in the design of a computerized resident sign-out system to centralize patient information and produce lists for rounding and transferring care duties. Accuracy, flexibility, and portability were identified as key elements by the design team.

Results: Analysis of the type of information handled by residents caring for inpatients at our institution demonstrated common elements across many services. Most services used a paper patient list to manage both nightly sign-out and daily ward work, which required repeated recopying of patient data during the day. Utilizing medical information systems tools and rapid application development concepts, we constructed a computerized resident sign-out system ("UWCores"). This system combines the patient sign-out and daily ward work information in one central location. We believed this would improve the quality of information transferred during sign-out and enhance resident efficiency. During the design process, we identified rules that govern the type of clinical information that should be automatically versus manually updated. We observed an immediate acceptance by all residents and services that tried the system.

Conclusions: This study shows that by combining downloaded patient data from hospital systems with resident-entered patient details, a computerized resident sign-out system can be a feasible, powerful, and popular tool. While its effect on patient safety and resident efficiency await the results of further studies, our study shows that this tool rapidly captured the attention of resident physicians and became widely used as a valuable means to centralize and organize sign-out and daily ward work information.

MeSH terms

  • Continuity of Patient Care / organization & administration*
  • General Surgery / education
  • General Surgery / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / organization & administration*
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized / organization & administration*
  • Patient Care / methods
  • Patient Transfer / methods*