Development of the Uncertainty Communication Checklist: A Patient-Centered Approach to Patient Discharge From the Emergency Department

Acad Med. 2020 Jul;95(7):1026-1034. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003231.


Clear communication with patients upon emergency department (ED) discharge is important for patient safety during the transition to outpatient care. Over one-third of patients are discharged from the ED with diagnostic uncertainty, yet there is no established approach for effective discharge communication in this scenario. From 2017 to 2019, the authors developed the Uncertainty Communication Checklist for use in simulation-based training and assessment of emergency physician communication skills when discharging patients with diagnostic uncertainty. This development process followed the established 12-step Checklist Development Checklist framework and integrated patient feedback into 6 of the 12 steps. Patient input was included as it has potential to improve patient-centeredness of checklists related to assessment of clinical performance. Focus group patient participants from 2 clinical sites were included: Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA, and Northwestern University Hospital, Chicago, Illinois.The authors developed a preliminary instrument based on existing checklists, clinical experience, literature review, and input from an expert panel comprising health care professionals and patient advocates. They then refined the instrument based on feedback from 2 waves of patient focus groups, resulting in a final 21-item checklist. The checklist items assess if uncertainty was addressed in each step of the discharge communication, including the following major categories: introduction, test results/ED summary, no/uncertain diagnosis, next steps/follow-up, home care, reasons to return, and general communication skills. Patient input influenced both what items were included and the wording of items in the final checklist. This patient-centered, systematic approach to checklist development is built upon the rigor of the Checklist Development Checklist and provides an illustration of how to integrate patient feedback into the design of assessment tools when appropriate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Checklist / standards*
  • Chicago / epidemiology
  • Communication*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Occupations / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Advocacy / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Discharge
  • Patient Safety
  • Patient-Centered Care / standards*
  • Philadelphia / epidemiology
  • Social Skills
  • Transitional Care
  • Uncertainty