Information loss in emergency medical services handover of trauma patients

Prehosp Emerg Care. 2009 Jul-Sep;13(3):280-5. doi: 10.1080/10903120802706260.


Introduction: Little is known about how effectively information is transferred from emergency medical services (EMS) personnel to clinicians in the emergency department receiving the patient. Information about prehospital events and findings can help ensure expedient and appropriate care. The trauma literature describes 16 prehospital data points that affect outcome and therefore should be included in the EMS report when applicable.

Objective: To determine the degree to which information presented in the EMS trauma patient handover is degraded.

Methods: At a level I trauma center, patients meeting criteria for the highest level of trauma team activation ("full trauma") were enrolled. As part of routine performance improvement, the physician leadership of the trauma program watched all available video-recorded full trauma responses, checking off whether the data points appropriate to the case were verbally "transmitted" by the EMS provider. Two EMS physicians then each independently reviewed the trauma team's chart notes for 50% of the sample (and a randomly selected 15% of the charts to assess agreement) and checked off whether the same elements were documented ("received") by the trauma team. The focus was on data elements that were "transmitted" but not "received."

Results: In 96 patient handovers, a total of 473 elements were transmitted, of which 329 were received (69.6%). On the average chart, 72.9% of the transmitted items were received (95% confidence interval 69.0%-76.8%). The most commonly transmitted data elements were mechanism of injury (94 times), anatomic location of injury (81), and age (67). Prehospital hypotension was received in only 10 of the 28 times it was transmitted; prehospital Glasgow Coma Scale [GCS] score 10 of 22 times; and pulse rate 13 of 49 times.

Conclusions: Even in the controlled setting of a single-patient handover with direct verbal contact between EMS providers and in-hospital clinicians, only 72.9% of the key prehospital data points that were transmitted by the EMS personnel were documented by the receiving hospital staff. Elements such as prehospital hypotension, GCS score, and other prehospital vital signs were often not recorded. Methods of "transmitting" and "receiving" data in trauma as well as all other patients need further scrutiny.

MeSH terms

  • Continuity of Patient Care
  • Disclosure*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Medical Audit
  • Patient Transfer / organization & administration*
  • Video Recording
  • Wounds and Injuries*