Background: Transfer of responsibility for patient care between physicians is a key process in the care of hospitalized patients. Systems of transfer management and transfer frequency may affect clinical outcomes.
Methods: To characterize the systems by which patient information is transferred ("signed out") between resident physicians in internal medicine residency programs and to determine the impact of recently enacted resident work-hour regulations on the frequency of transfers, we mailed a self-administered survey to chief residents at 324 accredited US internal medicine residency programs outside of New York State. The main outcome measures were sign-out practices, skills training, and transfer frequency.
Results: Surveys were returned from 202 programs (62%). Transfer systems varied among and within institutions: 55% did not consistently require both a written and an oral sign-out at transfers of care, 34% left sign-out to interns alone, and 59% had no means of informing nurses that a transfer had taken place. In addition, 60% of the programs did not provide any lectures or workshops on sign-out skills. After work-hour regulations were instituted, transfers of care for a hypothetical patient increased by a mean of 11% (from 7.0 to 7.8 transfers; P<.001) during a Monday-Friday hospitalization. A member of the primary team was in the hospital for 47% of the hospitalization.
Conclusion: Although transfers of care are increasingly frequent, few internal medicine residency programs have comprehensive transfer of care systems in place, and most do not provide formal training in sign-out skills to all residents.