Background: After hospital discharge, patients are at risk for medication errors, missed test results, adverse events, and readmissions. Handoff communication between the inpatient and outpatient settings is primarily accomplished with the discharge summary. However, critical information can often be missing, such as the date of the first postdischarge follow-up visit, a complete and accurate list of discharge medications, and follow-up recommendations. There have been no studies focusing on identifying and implementing a parsimonious, clinically relevant, inpatient-to-outpatient discharge handoff tool within a fully integrated electronic medical record (EMR) system. A concise, written, electronic handoff communication tool was created to address this gap.
Methods: Using inpatient and outpatient provider stakeholder input, a standard, succinct, and clinically relevant handoff tool was designed and implemented within the Veterans Affairs EMR. Retrospective chart review at 3 and 15 months after the handoff tool rollout in December 2010 was conducted to monitor handoff uptake and outcomes.
Results: At 15 months after implementation, 86% (129/150) of patients had a completed handoff at the time of discharge. More handoff notes were available in the EMR within 24 hours of discharge than discharge summaries (100% versus 77%, p < .0001). There was no difference between those patients with or without a handoff in the number of emergency department visits or readmissions.
Discussion: A standardized clinically relevant discharge handoff tool had high user uptake and sustainability and improved timeliness of communication of information between the hospital and outpatient setting. Even within a fully integrated EMR system, simple and efficient handoffs between inpatient and outpatient providers may fulfill a communication gap at the time of discharge.