Understanding communication during hospitalist service changes: a mixed methods study

J Hosp Med. 2009 Nov;4(9):535-40. doi: 10.1002/jhm.523.


Background: Little data exist to inform hospitalist communication during service changes.

Objective: To characterize hospitalist handoffs during service changes.

Design: Serial survey study.

Setting: Single academic medical center.

Measurements: From May to December 2007, 60 service changes among 17 hospitalists on a nonteaching service were targeted for evaluation using an anonymous 18-item survey that was completed by hospitalists within 48 hours of assuming care for patients. Survey items assessed completeness of handoff communication, certainty of patient care plans, missed information, time spent recovering information, and near misses/adverse events due to incomplete handoffs. The association between completeness of communication and handoff outcomes was examined. Narrative comments were analyzed qualitatively.

Results: Ninety-three percent (56/60) of surveys were returned. All 17 hospitalists participated. Thirteen percent of respondents reported incomplete handoffs and 18% were uncertain of care plan on transition day. At least 1 near miss, attributable to incomplete communication was reported by 16%. Hospitalists who reported incomplete handoffs were more likely to report uncertainty about patient care plans on the transition day (71% incomplete vs. 10% complete, P < 0.01), discovery of missing information (71% incomplete vs. 24% complete, P = 0.01), near misses/adverse events (57% incomplete vs. 10% complete, P < 0.01), and more time resolving issues arising from missed information (71% incomplete vs. 22% complete, P < 0.01). Qualitative comments suggest the need for a more systematic, focused, team-based, and patient-centered handoff model.

Conclusions: Incomplete handoffs during service changes are associated with uncertainty and potential patient harm. Suggestions to improve the completeness of hospitalist service change communications are offered.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers / organization & administration*
  • Communication*
  • Continuity of Patient Care / organization & administration*
  • Hospitalists*
  • Humans
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration*
  • Patient-Centered Care / organization & administration
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Time Factors