Emergency Department Signout via Voicemail Yields Mixed Reviews


Clinical question: How does traditional, oral signout from emergency providers to inpatient medicine physicians compare to dictated, voicemail signout?

Background: Communication failures contribute to errors in care transition from ED to inpatient medicine units. Signout between ED providers and internal medicine (IM) physicians is typically oral (“synchronous communication”). It is not known how dictated signout to a voicemail system (“asynchronous communication”) affects the quality and safety of handoff communications.

Study design: Prospective, pre-post analysis.

Setting: A 944-bed urban academic medical center in Connecticut.

Synopsis: Surveys were administered to all IM and ED providers before and after the implementation of a voicemail signout system. In the new system, ED providers dictated signout for stable patients, rather than giving traditional synchronous telephone signout. It was the responsibility of the admitting IM physician to listen to the voicemail after receiving a text notification that a patient was being admitted.

ED providers recorded signouts in 89.5% of medicine admissions. However, voicemails were accessed only 58.5% of the time by receiving physicians. All ED providers and 56% of IM physicians believed signout was easier following the voicemail intervention. Overall, ED providers gave the quality, content, and accuracy of their signout communication higher ratings than IM physicians did; 69% of all providers felt the interaction among participants was worse following the intervention. There was no change in the rate of perceived adverse events or ICU transfers within 24 hours after admission.

This intervention was a QI initiative at a single center. Mixed results and small sample size limit generalizability of the study.

Bottom line: Asynchronous signout by voicemail increased efficiency, particularly among ED providers but decreased perceived quality of interaction between medical providers without obviously affecting patient safety.

Citation: Horwitz LI, Parwani V, Shah NR, et al. Evaluation of an asynchronous physician voicemail sign-out for emergency department admissions. Ann Emerg Med. 2009;54:368-378.

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