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A 2-year-old girl presented to her pediatrician with a cough, runny nose, low grade fever and fatigue; a nasal swab for SARS-CoV-2 and influenza was negative and lung sounds were clear. The patient developed a fever and labored breathing and was taken to the Emergency Department (ED) before being admitted to the hospital. She developed respiratory distress and clinically worsened over time until she developed respiratory failure requiring air transportation to the pediatric intensive care unit at a children’s hospital.

A 71-year-old man presented to a hospital-based orthopedic surgery clinic for a follow-up evaluation of his knee and complaints of pain and swelling in his right shoulder. His shoulder joint was found to be acutely inflamed and purulent fluid was aspirated from his shoulder. The patient was sent to the Emergency Department (ED) for suspected septic arthritis.

Farnborough, UK: Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch; June 2022.

Handoffs between prehospital emergency medical services (EMS) providers and hospital emergency departments (EDs) can be suboptimal, which increases patient harm potential. This interim report examines National Health Service discharge delays. It suggests a systemic approach is needed to address flow and capacity factors that contribute to ineffective and unsafe interfacility discharge and transfer.
Buitrago I, Seidl KL, Gingold DB, et al. J Healthc Qual. 2022;44:169-177.
Reducing hospital 30-day readmissions is seen as a way to improve safety and reduce costs. Baltimore City mobile integrated health and community paramedicine (MIH-CP) was designed to improve transitional care from hospital to home. After one year in operation, MIH-CP performed a chart review to determine causes of readmission among patients in the program. Root cause analysis indicated that at least one social determinant of health (e.g., health literacy) played a role in preventable readmissions; the program was modified to improve transitional care.

This WebM&M describes two incidences of the incorrect patient being transported from the Emergency Department (ED) to other parts of the hospital for tests or procedures. In one case, the wrong patient was identified before undergoing an unnecessary procedure; in the second case, the wrong patient received an unnecessary chest x-ray. The commentary highlights the consequences of patient transport errors and strategies to enhance the safety of patient transport and prevent transport-related errors.

Holmes J, Chipman M, Barbour T, et al. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2022;48:12-24.
Air medical transport carries unique patient safety risks. In this study, researchers used simulation training and healthcare failure mode and effect analysis (HFMEA) to identify latent safety threats related to patient transport via helicopter. This approach identified 31 latent safety threats (18 were deemed critical) related to care coordination, facilities, equipment, and devices.
Mueller SK, Shannon E, Dalal A, et al. J Patient Saf. 2021;17:e752-e757.
This single-site survey of resident and attending physicians across multiple specialties uncovered multiple safety vulnerabilities in the process of interhospital transfer. Investigators found that physicians and patients were both dissatisfied with timing of transfers and that critical patient records were missing upon transfer. These issues raise safety concerns for highly variable interhospital transfer practices.
Dr. Brice is Professor and Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of North Carolina. She also serves as the Program Director for the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Fellowship and was past-president of the National Association of EMS Physicians. We spoke with her about her experience working in emergency medical systems and safety concerns particular to this field.
To transfer a man with possible sepsis to a hospital with subspecialty and critical care, a physician was unaware of a formal protocol and called a colleague at the academic medical center. The colleague secured a bed, and the patient was sent over. However, neither clinical data nor the details of the patient's current condition were transmitted to the hospital's transfer center, and the receiving physician booked a general ward bed rather than an ICU bed. When the patient arrived, his mentation was altered and breathing was rapid.
Alabdali A, Fisher JD, Trivedy C, et al. Air Med J. 2017;36:116-121.
Interfacility transport of critically ill patients may be performed by physician-led teams or by paramedics without direct physician involvement. This systematic review attempted to determine if transport by paramedics alone was safe for patients, but researchers found only a small number of studies with limited characterization of the types of adverse events encountered in this situation.
Goldberg SA, Porat A, Strother CG, et al. Prehosp Emerg Care. 2017;21:14-17.
Handoffs between prehospital emergency medical services (EMS) providers and hospital emergency departments (EDs) are known to be suboptimal. This record review of 90 EMS-to-ED handoffs at a single academic medical center found that essential information was often omitted. The authors suggest that further training is needed to enhance the quality of these handoffs.

J Health Serv Res Policy. 2015;20(suppl 1):S1-S60.

Articles in this special supplement explore research commissioned by National Institute for Health Research in the United Kingdom to address four patient safety research gaps: how organizational culture and context influence evaluations of interventions, organizational boundaries that affect handovers and other aspects of care, the role of the patient in safety improvement, and the economic costs and benefits of safety interventions.
Sujan MA, Chessum P, Rudd M, et al. J Health Serv Res Policy. 2015;20:17-25.
Patient handoffs are a major challenge for patient safety, especially when patients move between different units or organizations. Analysis of 270 handoffs between ambulances to emergency departments (EDs) and EDs to inpatient units uncovered many tensions and themes, such as how competing patient flow priorities can impact the quality of handoffs.
Balka E, Tolar M, Coates S, et al. Int J Med Inform. 2013;82:e345-57.
This ethnographic case study explored patient handoffs across different situations, including pre-hospital and primary care settings. These analyses emphasize numerous contextual issues that need be considered when creating computerized systems to support handoffs.
Dawson S, King L, Grantham H. Emerg Med Australas. 2015;25:393-405.
Handoffs between care settings can lead to adverse events. This literature review analyzed 17 studies of handoffs between prehospital first responders and emergency department (ED) staff. Safety gaps detected included communication barriers, lack of a structured communication tool, and unclear identification of the receiving clinical staff. The authors suggest that a structured handoff tool could improve first responder–ED handoffs. A past AHRQ WebM&M commentary discussed communication failures between providers and highlighted a need for standard handoff protocols.