Effectiveness of written hospitalist sign-outs in answering overnight inquiries

J Hosp Med. 2013 Nov;8(11):609-14. doi: 10.1002/jhm.2090. Epub 2013 Oct 16.


Background: Hospitalists are key providers of care to medical inpatients, and sign-out is an integral part of providing safe, high-quality inpatient care. There is little known about hospitalist-to-hospitalist sign-out.

Objective: To evaluate the quality of hospitalist/physician-extender sign-outs by assessing how well the sign-out prepares the night team for overnight events and to determine attributes of effective sign-out.

Design: Analysis of a written-only sign-out protocol on a nonteaching hospitalist service using prospective data collected by an attending physician survey during overnight shifts.

Setting: Yale-New Haven Hospital, a 966-bed, urban, academic medical center in New Haven, Connecticut with approximately 13,700 hospitalist discharges annually.

Results: We recorded 124 inquiries about 96 patients during 6 days of data collection in 2012. Hospitalists referenced the sign-out for 89 (74%) inquiries, and the sign-out was considered sufficient in isolation to respond to 27 (30%) of these inquiries. Hospitalists physically saw the patient for 14 (12%) of inquiries. Nurses were the originator for most inquiries (102 [82%]). The most common inquiry topics were medications (55 [45%]), plan of care (26 [21%]), and clinical changes (26 [21%]). Ninety-five (77%) inquiries were considered to be "somewhat" or "very" clinically important by the hospitalist.

Conclusions: Overall, we found that attending hospitalists rely heavily on written sign-out to address overnight inquiries, but that those sign-outs are not reliably effective. Future work to better understand the roles of written and verbal components in sign-out is needed to help improve the safety of overnight care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers / methods
  • Academic Medical Centers / organization & administration
  • Academic Medical Centers / trends
  • Communication
  • Connecticut
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Hospitalists / organization & administration
  • Hospitalists / standards*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients*
  • Logistic Models
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Handoff / organization & administration
  • Patient Handoff / standards*
  • Patient Safety / standards*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Quality of Health Care / standards*