Med Students’ Simple Idea Has Serious Potential


Former SHM President Scott Flanders, MD, SFHM (center), presents University of Michigan Medical School students Aaron Farberg (left) and Andrew Lin an award during HM10’s Research, Innovations, and Clinical Vignettes competition.

Former SHM President Scott Flanders, MD, SFHM (center), presents University of Michigan Medical School students Aaron Farberg (left) and Andrew Lin an award during HM10’s Research, Innovations, and Clinical Vignettes competition.

The difficulties in routinely recalling each and every action to take with a patient has encouraged hospitalists to abide by checklists that remind them of just what to do. So why shouldn’t patients have the same systematic prodding? That’s exactly what two first-year students at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor—Andrew Lin and Aaron Farberg—thought two years ago, prompting them to invent Dear Doctor.

With the help of senior physicians, including former SHM president Scott Flanders, MD, SFHM, FACP, Lin and Farberg conducted a three-month study that provided bedside notepads to patients. The patients were encouraged to jot down questions for their doctors whenever a question occurred to them, not just when the physician was in the room. The students produced 1,000 notepads, even shrink-wrapping them with companion pens.

The simple yet seemingly effective approach worked so well that “Dear Doctor: A Tool to Facilitate Patient-Centered Care and Enhance Communication” earned the budding physicians the 2010 Innovation Poster award in the Research, Innovations, and Clinical Vignettes competition at HM10.

“This isn’t groundbreaking work here,” Lin says. “It’s a notepad, scraps of paper. Look around your desk and you’ve got sticky notes around. That’s what this is.”

Lin and Farberg both say they were surprised no one had crafted a similar communication tool as a potential quality-improvement (QI) measure. To wit, they are now working on publishing their research in the Journal of Hospital Medicine to further draw attention to the concept. They envision a day when the notes patients write down could be included in electronic medical records.

The ultimate goal is to give hospitalists and other physicians another way to communicate with their patients. “We want to institutionalize [Dear Doctor] to the point it’s a recognized necessity for the hospital system,” Lin says.—RQ


One-Stop Shop for Medical Apps

As mobile technology becomes increasingly important throughout HM, hospitalists will no doubt struggle to keep up with the applications that are most applicable to the inpatient hospital setting.

Consider the relaunched a digital roadmap.

The site, which publishes news and commentary on the seemingly endless stream of new applications for touchscreen tablets and smartphones, recently upgraded its customizable approach for tech-minded physicians. One of the most useful features is the ability to search for apps geared toward specific specialties, including cardiology and obstetrics.

While HM is not yet a category, hospitalists could fined the “internal medicine” category quite useful: Two of the first three items listed deal with atrial fibrillation and antithrombotic agents.—RQ

Toolkit Addresses Small-Business Security Concerns

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) has had a privacy and security toolkit for physicians for a decade, but after its last annual security survey with the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), it became clear that small- to medium-sized organizations were behind in implementation.

And so was born the HIMSS Privacy and Security Toolkit for Small Provider Organizations. The joint initiative is one that HM groups in rural or small settings should take advantage of, says Lisa Gallagher, HIMSS’ senior director of privacy and security.

Hospitalists “need to understand the reporting environment,” Gallagher says. “They are the subject of a lot of the policies and technology. We need them to be knowledgeable about it. They’re the ones who have access.”

HM’s role at the juncture of different departments and physicians, particularly at smaller hospitals that rely on hospitalists as traffic cops, makes it all the more important for hospitalists to understand the nuances of both privacy and security.

The interactive toolkit allows users to submit their own suggestions for improved processes and features introductions to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) “meaningful use” standard. Gallagher is hopeful that an engaged physician response to the toolkit will only bolster its efficacy in the coming months. “This is going to continue to evolve,” she says.—RQ


Care Transitions, Readmissions Concern Other Countries

International studies suggest that the recent torrent of attention toward improving care transitions and preventing hospital readmissions is not just an American trend. For example, a literature survey of physician “handovers” (aka handoffs) in international hospitals published in the British Medical Journal for Quality and Safety identified 32 papers on the subject.1 The authors conclude that the existing literature rarely examines pre- and post-handover phases or evaluates the quality of handover practices, and thus “does not fully identify where communication failures typically occur.” More systematic analysis of all stages of handoffs by physicians is warranted, the authors suggest.

In the same journal, a literature search of English-language publications from 1990 to 2010 found a dozen studies—eight from the U.S.—documenting failure to perform adequate follow-up for patients’ test results.2 The lack of follow-up ranged from 20% to 62% for hospitalized patients, and from 1% to 75% for patients treated in the ED. Two areas where problems were particularly evident were critical test results and results for patients moving across healthcare settings. “The existing evidence suggests that the problem of missed test results is considerable and reported negative impacts on patients warrant the exploration of solutions,” the authors conclude. They recommend further study of the effectiveness of such interventions as online endorsement of results, and integration of information technology into clinical work practices.

The World Alliance for Patient Safety, which was convened in 2004 by the World Health Organization, recently pointed to poor test result follow-up as one of the major processes contributing to unsafe patient care internationally.1 The organization has identified nine “patient-safety solutions,” one of which is ensuring medication accuracy at transitions of care.

For more information on the alliance and WHO’s interest in patient safety, visit —LB


  1. Raduma-Tomás MA, Flin R, Yule S, Williams D. Doctors’ handovers in hospi- tals: a literature review. BMJ Qual Saf. 2011;20:128-133.
  2. Callen J, Georgiou A, Li J, Westbrook JI. The safety implications of missed test results for hospitalised patients: a systematic review. BMJ Qual Saf. 2011;20:194-199.



The proportion of adverse events in U.S. hospitals that are missed by the two most common methods of detecting them: 1) voluntary reporting and 2) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) patient safety indicators.

Authors of a study published in Health Affairs documented 10 times as many identifiable adverse events at three large U.S. hospitals with well-funded safety programs when using two screens and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s “Global Trigger” tool, compared with reports using only the commonly used tools.1

The proportion of hospital stays that result in medical errors, extrapolated from chart reviews, was 33.2%.—LB


  1. Classen DC, Resar R, et al. “Global Trigger Tool” shows that adverse events in hospitals may be ten times greater than previously measured. Health Affairs. 2011;30:581-589

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