Improving patient handovers from hospital to primary care: a systematic review

Ann Intern Med. 2012 Sep 18;157(6):417-28. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-157-6-201209180-00006.


Background: Evidence shows that suboptimum handovers at hospital discharge lead to increased rehospitalizations and decreased quality of health care.

Purpose: To systematically review interventions that aim to improve patient discharge from hospital to primary care.

Data sources: PubMed, CINAHL, PsycInfo, the Cochrane Library, and EMBASE were searched for studies published between January 1990 and March 2011.

Study selection: Randomized, controlled trials of interventions that aimed to improve handovers between hospital and primary care providers at hospital discharge.

Data extraction: Two reviewers independently abstracted data on study objectives, setting and design, intervention characteristics, and outcomes. Studies were categorized according to methodological quality, sample size, intervention characteristics, outcome, statistical significance, and direction of effects.

Data synthesis: Of the 36 included studies, 25 (69.4%) had statistically significant effects in favor of the intervention group and 34 (94.4%) described multicomponent interventions. Effective interventions included medication reconciliation; electronic tools to facilitate quick, clear, and structured summary generation; discharge planning; shared involvement in follow-up by hospital and community care providers; use of electronic discharge notifications; and Web-based access to discharge information for general practitioners. Statistically significant effects were mostly found in reducing hospital use (for example, rehospitalizations), improvement of continuity of care (for example, accurate discharge information), and improvement of patient status after discharge (for example, satisfaction).

Limitations: Heterogeneity of the interventions and study characteristics made meta-analysis impossible. Most studies had diffuse aims and poor descriptions of the specific intervention components.

Conclusion: Many interventions have positive effects on patient care. However, given the complexity of interventions and outcome measures, the literature does not permit firm conclusions about which interventions have these effects.

Primary funding source: The European Union, the Framework Programme of the European Commission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Services
  • Humans
  • Patient Discharge / standards*
  • Patient Handoff / standards*
  • Patient Readmission
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic