Study objective: We describe the prevalence of vital sign communication errors during emergency department (ED) handoffs. Our secondary objective is to evaluate the association between handoff behaviors and ED crowding on vital sign handoff errors.
Methods: This was a prospective observational study of ED handoffs conducted at an urban academic hospital. We observed a prespecified convenience sample of ED shift rounds and included all patients whose care was subject to a handoff during ED shift change. The primary outcome was vital sign communication errors, defined as the failure to communicate an episode of medical-record-documented hypotension or hypoxia during ED shift rounds. Trained research assistants used a standardized data collection tool to collect data through direct observation and electronic health record abstraction. We report descriptive statistics and results of a logistic regression model constructed with generalized estimating equations to describe the association between handoff and rounds-level characteristics and handoff errors.
Results: We observed 1,163 patient handoffs during 130 ED shift rounds. Of 117 patients with episodes of hypotension and 156 patients with hypoxia, 66 (42%) and 116 (74%) were not communicated at rounds, respectively. One hundred sixty-six handoffs (14%) included a vital sign communication error of omission. In multivariate analysis, no handoff or rounds characteristic, including the ED occupancy rate, was associated with omission errors of vital sign communication.
Conclusion: Providers omitted communication of patient hypotension or hypoxia in nearly 1 in 7 ED handoffs. These communication errors do not appear to be related to ED crowding or care interruptions.
Copyright © 2015 American College of Emergency Physicians. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.