Müller M, Jürgens J, Redaèlli M, et al. BMJ Open. 2018;8:e022202.
Standardized handoff tools are increasingly implemented to improve communication between health care providers. Although this systematic review identified several studies supporting the use of SBAR as a communication tool to improve patient safety, the authors suggest the evidence is moderate and that further research is needed.
Parshuram CS, Dryden-Palmer K, Farrell C, et al. JAMA. 2018;319:1002-1012.
Identifying incipient clinical deterioration is a prerequisite for rapid response and prevention of harm for hospitalized patients. This study tested a bedside pediatric early warning system, which included an illness severity score, standardized documentation, and monitoring protocols. In a cluster-randomized trial in several high-income countries, implementation of the bundle did not result in decreased in-hospital mortality compared to usual care. The overall mortality rate in the study was less than 0.2%. The authors suggest that this unexpectedly low mortality rate may have made it difficult to detect differences in intervention versus control hospitals. A related editorial suggests that artificial intelligence should be used to identify clinical deterioration and that outcomes beyond mortality should be considered in their evaluation.
Handoffs represent a significant risk to patient safety. Standardizing communication during the handoff process has the potential to reduce harm. In this trial, researchers assessed the impact of a standardized handoff curriculum on perceived interprovider communication in eight intensive care units (ICUs) across two hospital systems. Although the curriculum was perceived to improve shift preparedness among providers, they found no association with better patient outcomes in the ICUs, including length of stay, duration of mechanical ventilation, or reintubations. An accompanying editorial suggests that further research on standardized handoffs in the ICU is necessary to better understand the potential for improving patient outcomes. A previous PSNet interview discussed handoffs and the implementation and findings of the landmark I-PASS study.
Scott AM, Li J, Oyewole-Eletu S, et al. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2017;43.
Fragmented care transitions may lead to adverse events due to poor provider communication, disjointed continuation of care, and incomplete patient follow-up. In this study, site visits were conducted at 22 healthcare organization across the United State to determine facilitators and barriers to implementing transitional care services. Identified facilitators included collaborating within and beyond the organization, tailoring care to patients and caregivers, and generating buy-in among staff. Barriers included poor integration of transitional care services, unmet patient or caregiver needs, underutilized services, and lack of physician buy-in. Results suggest how institutions may wish to prioritize strategies to facility effective care transitions.
Walker S, Mason A, Quan P, et al. Lancet. 2017;390:62-72.
The weekend effect (higher mortality for patients in acute care settings on weekends compared to weekdays) has led to widespread concerns about hospital staffing. This retrospective study examined whether mortality for emergency admissions at four hospitals in the United Kingdom differed on weekends compared to weekdays. Unlike prior studies of the weekend effect, this study included multiple specific markers of patients' illness severity as well as hospital workload. Investigators found higher mortality associated with being admitted to the hospital during weekends compared to weekdays, but a significant proportion of the observed weekend effect was explained by severity of patient illness. They used three measures to approximate hospital workload: total number of admissions, net admissions (subtracting discharges from admissions), and percentage of beds occupied. None of these workload measures was associated with mortality. The authors conclude that differences in illness severity rather than health care team staffing explain the weekend effect. A recent PSNet interview discussed the weekend effect in health care.
The weekend effect refers to the fact that mortality for several common conditions is higher in patients admitted on weekends compared to weekdays. While the mechanism for this effect is unclear, it likely varies for different disease processes. For example, prior studies have postulated that a weekend effect exists for patients with acute stroke. However, this study analyzed a large British database and found that many patients with a history of stroke who were later hospitalized for other reasons had their admission diagnosis inaccurately documented as acute stroke. This inaccuracy occurred more frequently in patients admitted on weekdays. Because the weekday admissions included many patients who were hospitalized for less morbid conditions, mortality appeared lower for patients admitted on weekdays than on weekends. When data was reanalyzed to include only those patients with a true acute stroke, no weekend effect was found. This study demonstrates the limitations of administrative data in analyzing patient safety issues.
Murphy DR, Wu L, Thomas EJ, et al. J Clin Oncol. 2015;33:3560-7.
Trigger tools are algorithms that prompt clinicians to investigate a potential adverse event. These tools are in routine practice for detection of adverse drug events and have been used to identify diagnostic delays. Investigators randomized physicians to either no intervention or to receive triggers related to cancer diagnosis; each trigger was an abnormal diagnostic test result for which follow-up testing is recommended. Delays in acting on abnormal test results are a known cause of adverse events. Sending reminders to physicians based on the trigger process led to higher rates of recommended diagnostic evaluation completion and a shorter time to completion for two of the three studied conditions. These promising results suggest that trigger tools could play a role in improving diagnosis across a range of conditions.
Starmer AJ, Spector ND, Srivastava R, et al. New Engl J Med. 2014;371:1803-1812.
The number of handoffs a patient experiences while hospitalized has almost certainly increased at academic institutions after the implementation of duty hour restrictions, posing a significant threat to patient safety. In response, The Joint Commission required that all hospitals maintain a standardized approach to handoff communication, and in 2010 the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education required that all residents receive formal handoff training. This multicenter study demonstrates that implementation of a standardized handoff bundle—which included a mnemonic ("I-PASS") for standardized oral and written signouts, formal training in handoff communication, faculty development, and efforts to ensure sustainability—was associated with a 23% relative reduction in the incidence of preventable adverse events across 9 participating pediatric residency programs. This improvement was achieved through a very high level of resident engagement in the revised handoff process, but did not negatively affect resident workflow. This rigorously designed and analyzed study establishes the I-PASS model as the gold standard for effective clinical handoffs and demonstrates the value of methodologically stringent approaches to addressing patient safety issues. A case of a delayed diagnosis due to poor handoffs is discussed in a past AHRQ WebM&M commentary.
Starmer AJ, Sectish TC, Simon DW, et al. JAMA. 2013;310:2262-2270.
Handoff improvement is a national patient safety priority. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education now requires residency programs to provide formal handoff education to trainees. This study evaluated the implementation of an inpatient handoff bundle for pediatric resident physicians. The multifaceted intervention included team training, standardized communication, electronic documentation, and new team handoff structures. In the uncontrolled, before-and-after analyses, medical errors and preventable adverse events decreased substantially. The intervention did not adversely affect resident workflow. Residents were found to spend more time in direct contact with patients in the post-intervention period. A related editorial notes that this study presents promising evidence that improving handoffs can reduce patient harm.
Feigenbaum P, Neuwirth E, Trowbridge L, et al. Med Care. 2012;50:599-605.
Preventing readmissions after hospital discharge is a national policy priority. The Partnership for Patients has established a goal of reducing preventable readmissions by 20% by 2013, and hospitals now face financial penalties for excess readmission rates. However, the proportion of readmissions that is truly preventable remains unclear, as prior studies have found that only 1 in 5 readmissions may be preventable. This case series from the integrated Kaiser Permanente system found that nearly half of their 30-day readmissions were at least possibly preventable (with 11% being completely preventable). Most readmissions had multiple contributing causes, and interestingly, use of strategies to prevent readmissions such as postdischarge telephone calls and early primary care follow-up appointments varied widely across the 18 hospitals in the study. A potentially preventable readmission due to a medication error is discussed in an AHRQ WebM&M commentary.
Callen JL, Westbrook JI, Georgiou A, et al. J Gen Intern Med. 2011;27:1334-1348.
Following up test results in a timely fashion is a recognized patient safety problem in primary care, and inadequate follow-up systems are a source of frustration for outpatient clinicians and a relatively common source of malpractice claims. This systematic review found evidence that failure to act on abnormal radiology or laboratory results is common and clearly linked to missed or delayed diagnoses. The review also found wide variation in processes for handling test results across studies. Electronic health records (EHRs) did appear to improve test follow-up rates, although a substantial proportion of abnormal results were not followed up even with EHRs. The authors advocate for more standardized processes for informing patients of abnormal results, and recent guidelines have been published for organizational policies to improve test result communication.
Li SYW, Magrabi F, Coiera E. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2012;19:6-12.
Interruptions pose a significant safety hazard for health care providers performing complex tasks, such as signout or medication administration. However, as prior research has pointed out, many interruptions are necessary for clinical care, making it difficult for safety professionals to develop approaches to limiting the harmful effects of interruptions. Reviewing the literature on interruptions from the psychology and informatics fields, this study identifies several key variables that influence the relationship between interruption of a task and patient harm. The authors provide several recommendations, based on human factors engineering principles, to mitigate the effect of interruptions on patient care. A case of an interruption leading to a medication error is discussed in this AHRQ WebM&M commentary.
Bell CM, Brener SS, Gunraj N, et al. JAMA. 2011;306:840-7.
Care transitions are a vulnerable time for patients, particularly following hospitalization when discharge communication, pending tests, and medication reconciliation are all known challenges. This study analyzed a population-based data set containing both hospitalization and outpatient prescription records to identify the incidence of potentially unintentional medication discontinuation among patients 66 years or older. Analyzing nearly 400,000 patients, investigators found high rates of medication discontinuation ranging from 5% to 19% across 5 evidence-based medication classes (e.g., lipid lowering, thyroid replacement, antiplatelet agents) for hospitalized patients. Admission to the ICU was associated with an even greater risk of medication discontinuation. While some medication discontinuation is not surprising in the setting of a critical illness that may create new contraindications to preexisting medications, both this study and an accompanying editorial [see link below] raise appropriate concern about carefully reconciling chronic disease medications following hospitalization. A past AHRQ WebM&M conversation and perspective discussed the challenges and opportunities for improving care transitions.
The Partnership for Patients has set a goal of reducing preventable hospital readmissions 20% by the year 2013. This goal was achieved by the landmark care transitions study. However, since that study was conducted in an integrated health care system, concerns linger about the generalizability of the intervention to other settings. This study, funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, sought to evaluate the real world effectiveness of the care transitions intervention at six hospitals in a non-integrated health care system. Despite logistical challenges, the intervention successfully reduced readmissions by 36% in patients who received it compared with patients who did not receive any component of the intervention. As hospitals continue to investigate ways of preventing readmissions and reducing adverse events after discharge, this study provides reinforcement for comprehensive interventions that attempt to bridge the gap between inpatient and outpatient care.
Attempts to reduce medication discrepancies in hospitalized patients have been hampered by a lack of proven medication reconciliation strategies. In this cluster-randomized trial, a previously described electronic medication list that required input from nurses, physicians, and pharmacists was implemented at two academic hospitals. The tool resulted in a significant reduction in potential adverse drug events at discharge. However, potential drug errors still occurred at a rate of one per patient even after implementation. The intervention was more successful at preventing medication discrepancies among high-risk patients. This study is one of the first randomized trials of a medication reconciliation intervention, and points the way toward identifying medication reconciliation tools that are widely applicable.
With reductions in resident work hours, a greater number of communication failures have resulted, largely due to an increased number of "sign-outs" between providers. Despite the development of educational curricula, best practice guidelines, and computerized systems for sign-out, the patient care issues that remained around ineffective transfer of information elevated the issue into a National Patient Safety Goal. This prospective audiotape study analyzed more than 500 sign-outs and discovered omission of key information that potentially contributed to delays in diagnosis and treatment from covering providers, near misses, and several inefficiencies or redundancies in work. The authors also reported that failures to provide an accurate overall picture of the patient led to challenges with overnight decision-making. A past AHRQ WebM&M commentary discussed a sign-out–related error and the necessary systems to ensure safe and effective sign-outs.
Chan PS, Krumholz HM, Nichol G, et al. N Engl J Med. 2008;358:9-17.
Delays in treatment are common and pose a significant threat to patient safety. This study evaluated nearly 7000 patients who experienced a cardiac arrest due to “shockable” rhythms, and discovered an alarming rate of delays to defibrillation. Noted in 30% of cases, delays were associated with noncardiac admitting diagnoses, care received in an unmonitored unit, and occurrence after hours or on the weekend. Patients who received delays in treatment were ultimately found to have lower rates of survival after the in-hospital arrest. The study findings raise numerous opportunities for systems improvement, including better training of code teams with simulation methods, and particular attention to such training in teaching institutions. A study in the pediatric literature demonstrated similar delays around resuscitative efforts.
Singh H, Thomas EJ, Petersen LA, et al. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:2030-6.
This AHRQ-funded study uncovered distinctive features of errors involving trainees, including teamwork and communication breakdowns, failures of supervision and handoffs, and excessive workload. Building on a past study of closed malpractice claims, investigators conducted a subanalysis of those claims in which housestaff or fellows were thought to play an important role. As the claims predate the introduction of trainee work hour restrictions, the authors call for continued research into trainee errors and targeted training interventions to address current areas of concern. An accompanying editorial discusses a dramatically new model for inpatient care that would begin to address the problem areas identified in this study.
Horwitz LI, Kosiborod M, Lin Z, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147:97-103.
The 2003 regulations reducing housestaff duty hours have been controversial. Although some research has shown fewer errors when housestaff worked shorter shifts, many commentators have raised concern about the potential for errors associated with more transfers of care between physicians. This study sought to directly examine the effect of duty hours limitations on clinical outcomes by comparing medical patients hospitalized on a resident service to patients on a non-teaching service before and after duty hour reduction. There was no detectable increase in adverse events among patients cared for by residents, and some outcomes improved (eg, potential medication errors). Another study in the same issue also found reduced inpatient mortality among medical (but not surgical) patients after implementation of duty hour limitations. The accompanying editorial discusses these two studies in the context of growing evidence that limiting work hours "does no harm" to patients.
Shetty KD, Bhattacharya J. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147:73-80.
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education's 2003 regulations limiting housestaff duty hours likely improved residents' quality of life, but the effect on patients has been controversial. A prior review did not find evidence linking reduced work hours to improved patient safety. This study analyzed administrative data from 591 community hospitals before and after implementation of duty hours limitations to determine their effect on inpatient mortality. Mortality was reduced among medical patients in teaching hospitals (compared with non-teaching hospitals) after duty hour limitations came into effect, but no such changes were seen in surgical patients. Another study published in the same issue found improvements in some clinical outcomes among medical patients at a single teaching hospital. The accompanying editorial discusses these two studies in the context of growing evidence that limiting work hours "does no harm" to patients.
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