Communication During Interhospital Transfers of Emergency General Surgery Patients: A Qualitative Study of Challenges and Opportunities

J Patient Saf. 2022 Oct 1;18(7):711-716. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000000979. Epub 2022 Feb 3.


Objectives: Transferred emergency general surgery (EGS) patients experience worse outcomes than directly admitted patients. Improving communication during transfers may improve patient care. We sought to understand the nature of and challenges to communication between referring (RP) and accepting (AP) providers transferring EGS patients from the transfer center nurse's (TCN) perspective.

Methods: Guided by the Relational Coordination Framework, we interviewed 17 TCNs at an academic medical center regarding (in)efficient and (in)effective communication between RPs and APs. In-person interviews were recorded, transcribed, and managed in NVivo. Four researchers developed a codebook, cocoded transcripts, and met regularly to build consensus and discuss emergent themes. We used data matrices to perform constant comparisons and arrive at higher-level concepts.

Results: Challenges to ideal communication centered on the appropriateness and completeness of information, efficiency of the conversation, and degree of consensus. Transfer center nurses described that RPs provided incomplete information because of a lack of necessary infrastructure, personnel, or technical knowledge; competing clinical demands; or a fear of the transfer request being rejected. Inefficient communication resulted from RPs being unfamiliar with the information APs expected and the lack of a structured process to share information. Communication also failed when providers disagreed about the necessity of the transfer. Accepting providers diffused tension and facilitated communication by embracing the role of a "coach," negotiating "wait-and-see" agreements, and providing explanations of why transfers were unnecessary.

Conclusions: Transfer center nurses described numerous challenges to provider communication. Opportunities for improvement include sharing appropriate and complete information, ensuring efficient communication, and reaching consensus about the course of action.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Patient Transfer* / methods
  • Qualitative Research