Objectives: To determine the existing patterns of sign-out processes prevalent in emergency departments (EDs) nationwide. In addition, to assess whether training programs provide specific guidance to their trainees regarding sign-outs and attitudes of emergency medicine (EM) residency and pediatric EM fellowship program directors toward the need for the development of standardized guidelines relating to sign-outs.
Methods: A Web-based survey of training program directors of each Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-accredited EM residency and pediatric EM fellowship program was conducted in March 2006.
Results: Overall, 185 (61.1%) program directors responded to the survey. One hundred thirty-six (73.5%) program directors reported that sign-outs at change of shift occurred in a common area within the ED, and 79 (42.7%) respondents indicated combined sign-outs in the presence of both attending and resident physicians. A majority of the programs, 119 (89.5%), stated that there was no uniform written policy regarding patient sign-out in their ED. Half (50.3%) of all those surveyed reported that physicians sign out patient details "verbally only," and 79 (42.9%) noted that transfer of attending responsibility was "rarely documented." Only 34 (25.6%) programs affirmed that they had formal didactic sessions focused on sign-outs. A majority (71.6%) of program directors surveyed agreed that specific practice parameters regarding transfer of care in the ED would improve patient care; 80 (72.3%) agreed that a standardized sign-out system in the ED would improve communication and reduce medical error.
Conclusions: There is wide variation in the sign-out processes followed by different EDs. A majority of those surveyed expressed the need for standardized sign-out systems.