Anatomy of the ward round

Eur J Intern Med. 2008 Jul;19(5):309-13. doi: 10.1016/j.ejim.2007.09.016. Epub 2008 Feb 20.


The ward round has been a central activity of hospital life for hundreds of years. It is hardly mentioned in textbooks. The ward round is a parade through the hospital of professionals where most decision making concerning patient care is made. However the traditional format may be intimidating for patients and inadequate for communication. The round provides an opportunity for the multi-disciplinary team to listen to the patient's narrative and jointly interpret his concerns. From this unfolds diagnosis, management plans, prognosis formation and the opportunity to explore social, psychological, rehabilitation and placement issues. Physical examination of the patient at the bedside still remains important. It has been a tradition to discuss the patient at the bedside but sensitive matters especially of uncertainty may better be discussed elsewhere. The senior doctor as round leader must seek the input of nursing whose observations may be under-appreciated due to traditional professional hierarchy. Reductions in the working hours of junior doctors and shortened length of stay have reduced continuity of patient care. This increases the importance of senior staff in ensuring continuity of care and the need for the joint round as the focus of optimal decision making. The traditional round incorporates teaching but patient's right to privacy and their preferences must be respected. The quality and form of the clinical note is underreported but the electronic record is slow to being accepted. The traditional multi-disciplinary round is disappearing in some centres. This may be regrettable. The anatomy and optimal functioning of the ward round deserves scientific scrutiny and experimentation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Education, Medical
  • Humans
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / education
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / standards*
  • Patient Care Team / standards*
  • Physician-Nurse Relations
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Quality of Health Care