Care Transition Tips for Hospitalists and Groups
One recognized key to effective internal handoffs is the face-to-face verbal update, with opportunities to ask questions, priority given to sicker patients, and a written backup filling in the blanks with information that might become important as the patient’s condition changes. But if that is not practical for your HM group, what tools and processes will come closest to the ideal?
A key to effective discharge from the hospital is connection with the PCP, although face-to-face encounters with PCPs are highly unlikely. Hospitalists say there are levels of connection with PCPs, from the urgent (“I need to talk to someone right now”) to the routine (“It’s OK if they get this information tomorrow”). Many often wonder if there should be two levels of discharge communication with PCPs: an immediate message relaying crucial information and a formal discharge summary coming later.
For HM groups, the following is a list of suggestions from transitions-of-care researchers:
- Keep accurate and up-to-date contact information, including preferred communication medium, on referring physicians; survey them on their satisfaction with the discharge communications they receive from hospitalists.
- Partner with hospital administrators and with patient-safety and quality officers to address handoff issues.
- Partner with IT staff to help bridge the divide between clinicians and information technology.
- Track such outcomes as rehospitalization rates.
- Offer formal training on handoffs, discharges, and effective communication to physicians and other providers.
- Standardize the signout process, with computerized tools when appropriate, and create automated systems for following up on tests and lab results that come back after discharge.
- Structure shifts and their overlaps to help facilitate signouts.
- Consider implementing a discharge checklist.10
- Develop a strategy for medication reconciliation, with someone assigned to the process, be that a hospitalist, pharmacist or nurse.11
- Advocate for a post-discharge call-back policy by assigned staff at defined intervals, either for every patient discharged or for those targeted as higher-risk.12
- Consider creating a post-discharge clinic and/or a phone number that discharged patients can call to clarify post-discharge questions and concerns.
For individual hospitalists:
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- Understand the transition process, where it fails, and why.
- Be open to changing the way you do things. Be accountable for transitions, and a role model for others.
- Focus on the present—today’s baseline, current to-do items, and what to expect next in the patient’s care.
- Track patients and their future discharge needs from the day of admission. What’s the likely date for going home? What does the patient need to learn in the meantime? Help nurses focus on achieving those needs and, if possible, schedule the initial outpatient clinic appointment before the patient leaves the hospital.
- Take time to talk your patients, listen to their concerns and confirm their understanding of what lies ahead.
For hospitalists on the receiving end of transition messages:
- Actively listen—stay focused, limit interruptions, take notes.
- Ask questions to ensure your understanding and read back what you understand to be the communication.
- Have a system for keeping track of to-do items requiring follow-up.—LB