Be Explicit, Create a Model
“Many residency programs have a standardized form that residents use to sign out to the cross-covering physician,” says Sunil Kripalani, MD, MSc, director of the Section of Hospital Medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. “However, there is often not much attention given to the actual process of transferring patient information to another physician.”
For example, residents may tack the form up to a wall or leave it on a computer, he says, because this may be more convenient than meeting for a verbal, face-to-face sign out. “It is important that residents receive training about how to best sign out patients, so it is viewed as a priority area,” he says.
The initial training should cover best practices for hand-offs, says Dr. Kripalani. “It may not be intuitive, especially to new residents, that poorly executed hand-offs can be perilous,” he says.
It is also important to teach trainees how to best convey that information. “Sometimes you’ll think more is better,” says Dr. Horwitz, “but that’s not the case; people turn off or get distracted. There is a tension between providing enough information to take care of the person overnight versus providing too much information.”
Modeling best behaviors is also an important part of training, says Jay Routson, MD, a teaching hospitalist and clinical assistant professor of medicine in the Idaho State University Department of Family Medicine in Pocatello, Idaho. Dr. Routson, trained in internal medicine, thinks opportunities to train residents and students in transfer of care are also a chance to model what you expect of them.
This is particularly important in Dr. Routson’s circumstances because of the nature of his university’s family medicine residency: It is conducted at a number of locations. At morning report on the first day of a block, residents who have been on the previous rotation are to transfer patient care to the incoming residents. But they may have already left for their new pediatrics or NICU assignments, for instance, not only elsewhere in Pocatello but perhaps in Boise or Logan.
Another problem in his program’s training for transfer of care, says Dr. Routson, is that less-experienced residents are not always aware of the important things to check. What one resident thinks is important to follow up on the next resident may put at the bottom of his or her list.
“I think that you have to model the importance you place on [hand-offs],” says Dr. Routson. “You have to set aside time during the day and make it a priority. Model the behavior when you’re checking out to a new attending, make sure the residents and interns know it’s a priority, especially early in the academic year.”