Background: To maintain continuity of care when a patient's care is transferred between physicians, continuity of patient information is required. This survey determined how, and how well, Ontario emergency departments (EDs) communicate patient information to physicians in the community.
Methods: We surveyed Ontario ED chiefs to determine the most common media and methods used for disseminating information. We measured the perceived quality of their system, which was regressed against the hospital teaching status and community size using generalized logits modelling. Finally, we elicited the components of an ideal communication system for the ED.
Results: One hundred and forty-three (85.6%) Ontario ED chiefs participated. The ED record of treatment was the most commonly used medium (95%). Postal service was the most common (55%) method of disseminating information. Thirty-three chiefs (23%) perceived the quality of communicating patient information from their ED as unsatisfactory or inadequate. This perception was significantly more prevalent in larger communities (excellent v. unsatisfactory [odds ratio (OR) 44.9, 95% confidence interval (CI) 13.9-140] and satisfactory v. unsatisfactory [OR 2.9, 95% CI 1.6-5.1]) and in teaching hospitals (satisfactory v. unsatisfactory [OR 9.7, 95% CI 4.7-20.3]). Seventy-eight percent of responding chiefs felt that patient information should be disseminated using electronic means, either through email or server access.
Conclusions: To communicate patient information to community physicians, Ontario ED chiefs report that a copy of the ED record of treatment is sent by postal service. More than one-fifth of ED chiefs perceived communication from their department as unsatisfactory or inadequate. Studies that assess the completeness and accuracy of the record of treatment are required as a first step for measuring the quality of patient information communication in the Ontario ED system.