Patient Care

Interhospital Transfer Handoff Practice Variance at U.S. Tertiary Care Centers


Clinical question: How do interhospital handoff practices differ among U.S. tertiary care centers, and what challenges and innovations have providers encountered?

Background: Little has been studied regarding interhospital transfers. Many centers differ in the processes they follow, and well-delineated national guidelines are lacking. Adverse events occur in up to 30% of transfers. Standardization of these handoffs has been shown to reduce preventable errors and near misses.

Study design: Survey of convenience sample of institutions.

Setting: Transfer center directors from 32 tertiary care centers in the U.S.

Synopsis: The authors surveyed directors of 32 transfer centers between 2013 and 2015. Hospitals were selected from a nationally ranked list as well as those comparable to the authors’ own institutions. The median number of patients transferred per month was 700.

Only 23% of hospitals surveyed identified significant EHR interoperability. Almost all required three-way recorded discussion between transfer center staff and referring and accepting physicians. Only 29% had available objective clinical information to share. Only 23% recorded a three-way nursing handoff, and only 32% used their EHR to document the transfer process and share clinical information among providers.

Innovations included electronic transfer notes, a standardized system of feedback to referring hospitals, automatic internal review for adverse events and delayed transfers, and use of a scorecard with key measures shared with stakeholders.

Barriers noted included complexity, acuity, and lack of continuity. Increased use of EHRs, checklists, and common processes were identified as best practices.

Limitations of the study included reliance on verbal qualitative data, a single investigator doing most of the discussions, and possible sampling bias.

Bottom line: Interhospital transfer practices at academic tertiary care centers vary widely, and optimizing and aligning practices between sending and receiving hospitals may improve efficiency and patient outcomes.

References: Herrigel DJ, Carroll M, Fanning C, Steinberg MB, Parikh A, Usher M. Interhospital transfer handoff practices among US tertiary care centers: a descriptive survey. J Hosp Med. 2016;11(6):413-417.

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