Patient Care

ITL: Physician Reviews of HM-Relevant Research


In This Edition

Literature At A Glance

A guide to this month’s studies

  1. Interventions that improve discharge handovers reviewed
  2. Duration of in-hospital cardiac resuscitation and survival rates
  3. Early sepsis intervention strategies to decrease mortality risk
  4. Hypoglycemia linked to increased mortality in critically ill
  5. Increased bleeding risk for cardiac patients
  6. Hospital-run vs. anesthesiologist-run preoperative clinics
  7. Postoperative delirium and cognitive impairment in cardiac patients
  8. Benefits of resuming anticoagulants after GI bleeding
  9. Preoperative hyponatremia and risk of perioperative mortality

Systematic Review Highlights Several Interventions That Improve Discharge Handovers

Clinical question: Do interventions to improve patient handovers at discharge have positive effects on patient care?

Background: The transition from hospital to primary care is often suboptimal and has been associated with unfavorable outcomes, including hospital readmission, increased healthcare utilization, and adverse drug events post-discharge. This review sought to characterize different types of interventions aimed at improving discharge handovers and to evaluate their effects.

Study design: Systematic review of randomized controlled trials.

Setting: Studies published from January 1990 to March 2011.

Synopsis: Review of published databases identified 36 randomized controlled studies on interventions to improve discharge handovers. Studies were blindly evaluated by two reviewers on quality, interventions, and outcomes. There was significant heterogeneity in interventions and outcomes; thus, statistical analysis was not possible. Most studies evaluated multicomponent interventions and had more than one outcome measure.

Of the 36 studies reviewed, 25 reported statistically significant improvements in outcomes, including reduced hospital utilization and improved continuity of care. Effective interventions included medication reconciliation; structured discharge information (facilitated by electronic resources); multidisciplinary discharge planning; shared involvement in arranging care between inpatient and outpatient physicians; and Web-based access to discharge information by the outpatient provider.

The complexity of the interventions and the heterogeneity of reported results did not allow for firm conclusions to be drawn regarding which specific interventions had the strongest effects.

Bottom line: Interventions that target the quality and safety of handovers between hospital and outpatient providers at discharge can significantly reduce hospital utilization and improve continuity of care.

Citation: Hesselink G, Schoonhoven L, Barach P, et al. Improving patient handovers from hospital to primary care: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157:417-428.

Longer Duration of In-Hospital Cardiac Resuscitation Associated with Increased Survival

Clinical question: Are prolonged cardiac resuscitation efforts associated with improved outcomes?

Background: There is little evidence or guidelines on how long to maintain resuscitative efforts during in-hospital cardiac arrest, leading to variation in practice. This study characterized patterns of resuscitation duration and relationship to the return of spontaneous circulation and survival to discharge.

Study design: Retrospective observational study.

Setting: Four hundred thirty-five U.S. hospitals reporting data to the American Heart Association’s Get With The Guidelines: Resuscitation registry.

Synopsis: Using duration of resuscitation in nonsurvivors as a surrogate for the tendency of a facility to perform prolonged efforts, hospitals were divided into quartiles. Overall, of 64,339 patients in the registry, 31,198 (48.5%) had return of circulation and 9,912 (15.4%) survived to discharge. Resuscitative efforts in nonsurvivors ranged from a median of 16 to 25 minutes between the lowest and highest quartiles.

There was a stepwise increase in the likelihood for patients to have return of spontaneous circulation and to survive to discharge between each quartile. Specifically, comparing shortest to longest, there was a significant adjusted odds ratio of 1.12 for both the return of circulation (P<0.0001) and survival to discharge (P=0.021). The survival benefit was most apparent for those with pulseless electrical activity or asystole as initial rhythms, as compared to ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation.

Limitations included the study’s observational design, which meant causality could not be determined. Additionally, the study did not account for the quality of resuscitative efforts (e.g. depth of chest compressions, adherence with guidelines), which might have influenced outcomes. Importantly, the study looked at survival to discharge, but it did not evaluate long-term survival or functional status post-discharge, which might better reflect the success of resuscitation.

Bottom line: Prolonged resuscitative efforts were observed to be associated with increased likelihood of return of spontaneous circulation and survival to discharge; this data might provide clinical guidance in determining when to stop resuscitation efforts.

Citation: Goldberger ZD, Chan PS, Berg RA, et al. Duration of resuscitation efforts and survival after in-hospital cardiac arrest: an observational study. Lancet. 2012;380:1473-1481.

Early Sepsis Intervention Strategies Decrease Mortality, Length of Stay, and Cost

Clinical question: For patients with sepsis or septic shock, what is the impact of a real-time comprehensive continuous quality-improvement (QI) initiative on in-hospital mortality, morbidity, and healthcare resource utilization in community and tertiary-care hospitals in the U.S.?

Background: Multiple single-center trials have demonstrated that early sepsis intervention strategies (early goal-directed therapy, resuscitation bundles) improve in-hospital mortality. Little is known about the effectiveness of incorporating these strategies into a real-time continuous QI initiative and implementing interventions across multiple sites simultaneously.

Study design: Pre-post at some sites and concurrent implementation design at other sites.

Setting: Five community and six-tertiary care U.S. hospitals.

Synopsis: The GENeralized Early Sepsis Intervention Strategies (GENESIS) project was a CQI initiative that combined several QI concepts with validated early sepsis interventions known as resuscitation bundles (RB). Continuous QI was implemented on patients with severe sepsis or septic shock in both before and after designs (eight hospitals), and in concurrent designs (three hospitals). The control group was comprised of historical controls treated before GENESIS and patients with incomplete implementation of RB, totaling 1,554 patients. The treatment group included patients treated after GENESIS and those with complete RB compliance, totaling 4,801 patients.

Compared with the control group, patients in the treatment group had a 33% decreased risk of in-hospital mortality (RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.63-0.72), an absolute decrease in hospital length of stay (LOS) by 5.1 days (20.7 days vs. 15.6 days, P<0.001) and a $47,923 reduction in total hospital charges (P<0.001). Limitations included the study design (not a prospective randomized trial), and the possibility of other concurrent unmeasured quality initiatives taking place at the study sites, which might have contributed to improved outcomes.

Bottom line: Early sepsis intervention strategies in the form of a comprehensive continuous QI initiative can decrease mortality, hospital LOS, and cost in both tertiary-care and community hospitals.

Citation: Cannon CM, Holthaus CV, Zubrow MT, et al. The GENESIS project (GENeralized Early Sepsis Intervention Strategies): a multicenter quality improvement collaborative. J Intensive Care Med. 2012; Aug 17. doi:10.1177/0885066612453025.

Hypoglycemia Associated with Increased Mortality in the Critically Ill

Clinical question: Is hypoglycemia associated with mortality in critically ill patients?

Background: Initial studies suggested that intensive glucose control reduces mortality in surgical ICU patients and reduces morbidity in medical ICU patients, but further studies have not supported these findings. Recent literature shows conflicting results on the effects of intense glucose control in critically ill patients.

Study design: Post-hoc analysis of the NICE-SUGAR study database.

Setting: ICUs in 42 hospitals in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Synopsis: The NICE-SUGAR study was a multicenter trial that randomized 6,104 ICU patients to intensive (glucose 80 to 108 mg/dL) or conventional glucose control (≤180 mg/dL). Patients were followed for 90 days or until death, with death being the primary end point. Severe hypoglycemia (<40 mg/dL) was recorded in 6.8% of patients in the intensive glucose control group versus 0.5% in the conventional group. The study showed that intensive glucose control was associated with increased mortality among adult ICU patients.

Using the NICE-SUGAR database, the authors conducted a Cox regression analysis to examine the associations between hypoglycemia and death. A total of 2,714 patients had moderate hypoglycemia (glucose 41 to 70 mg/dL), and 223 patients had severe hypoglycemia. The hazard ratio for mortality was 1.41 (95% CI 1.21-1.62, P<0.001) for patients with moderate hypoglycemia and 2.10 (95% CI 1.59-2.77, P<0.001) for severe hypoglycemia, compared to patients without hypoglycemia.

These findings show a strong association between mortality and hypoglycemia but do not prove causality. Hospitalists caring for ICU patients must be aware that hypoglycemia is associated with mortality and focus on avoiding hypoglycemia. The American Diabetes Association currently recommends a target blood glucose level of 140 to 180 mg/dL for most critically ill patients.

Bottom line: Hypoglycemia (glucose <70 mg/dL) is associated with increased risk of mortality in ICU patients.

Citation: Finfer S, Chittock DR, Su SY, et al. Hypoglycemia and risk of death in critically ill patients. New Engl J Med. 2012;367(12):1108-1118.

Increased Bleeding Risk for Cardiac Patients on Multiple Antithrombotic Drugs

Clinical question: Is there an increased risk of bleeding in atrial fibrillation patients treated with multiple antithrombotic agents following acute myocardial infarction (MI) or percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)?

Background: Current treatment for atrial fibrillation patients with MI or PCI includes vitamin K antagonist (VKA) therapy to prevent stroke and antiplatelet agents to prevent further coronary events. There are inconsistent findings on the safety and efficacy of combined therapy with VKA, aspirin, and clopidogrel, specifically with regard to bleeding risk.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Nationwide registry in Denmark.

Synopsis: Using the National Patient Registry in Denmark, 11,480 patients with atrial fibrillation who were admitted for MI or PCI were identified. Patients were grouped by medication regimen, including monotherapy (aspirin, clopidogrel, or VKA), dual therapy (dual antiplatelet or VKA+antiplatelet), or triple therapy (VKA+aspirin+clopidogrel). The primary outcome was nonfatal or fatal bleeding within one year.

Patients receiving triple therapy had the highest rate of bleeding, with a crude incidence of 14.2 events per 100 person-years. Patients treated with VKA+aspirin+clopidogel were significantly more likely than those on VKA+antiplatelet (HR 1.47, 95% CI 1.04-2.08) or dual antiplatelet (HR 2.20, 95% CI 1.58-3.08) treatment to have a bleeding event within 90 days, and similar trends were seen at 90 to 360 days. There was no significant difference in thromboembolic events among patients on VKA+aspirin+clopidogrel versus VKA+antiplatelet therapy.

Only bleeding events that required hospitalization were recorded, which might underestimate the bleeding risks of these regimens. Additionally, INR levels were not determined, which could impact both bleeding and thromboembolic outcomes.

However, this study does suggest that there are significant bleeding risks among patients treated with triple therapy. Hospitalists should weigh the risks of thromboembolic events with bleeding risks in patients with atrial fibrillation and MI/PCI, and only prescribe VKA+aspirin+clopidogrel with these risks in mind.

Bottom line: Immediate and continued bleeding risk is increased in patients with atrial fibrillation admitted with PCI or MI who are placed on triple antithrombotic therapy with VKA+aspirin+clopidogrel.

Citation: Lamberts M, Olesen JB, Ruwald MH, et al. Bleeding after initiation of multiple antithrombotic drugs, including triple therapy, in atrial fibrillation patients following myocardial infarction and coronary intervention. Circulation. 2012;126:1185-1193.

Hospitalist-Run Preoperative Clinic Improves Outcomes in Complex Surgical Patients

Clinical question: Do hospitalist-run preoperative clinics improve outcomes for medically complex patients undergoing noncardiac surgery compared to traditional anesthesiologist-run preoperative clinics?

Background: Studies of perioperative medical consultation have shown inconsistent effects on quality of care, but preoperative medical consultation has only been evaluated in the immediate preoperative period (one day prior to surgery or less). Little is known about the impact of involving hospitalists earlier in the preoperative period.

Study design: Retrospective, pre-post study.

Setting: Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (VAGLAHS).

Synopsis: In July 2004, the VAGLAHS Preoperative Clinic transitioned from being anesthesiologist-run to hospitalist-run. Mid-level providers were trained on preoperative medical assessment, and patients were only evaluated by anesthesia staff on the day of surgery, after they had been deemed medically acceptable for surgery. All patients seen in the clinic from July 2003 to July 2005 were included in the study. Period A included patients evaluated when anesthesia staff supervised the clinic. Period B included patients evaluated during the first year of the hospitalist-run system.

There were 1,101 patients with inpatient surgeries in Period A, and 1,126 patients in Period B. Mean length of stay (LOS) decreased to 5.28 days during the hospitalist-run model from 9.87 days during the anesthesiologist-run model. LOS reductions were most notable in patients with ASA scores of 3 or higher; LOS reductions were not seen in an internal control of surgical patients who were not evaluated in the preoperative clinic. Inpatient mortality was also reduced in Period B compared with Period A, to 4 cases (0.36%) from 14 cases (1.27%) (P=0.0158). Specific processes that led to improved outcomes for patients in Period B could not be identified. The VA study setting might limit the generalizability of the results.

Bottom line: A hospitalist-run preoperative clinic was associated with decreased LOS and inpatient mortality compared with a traditional anesthesiologist-run clinic.

Citation: Vazirani S, Lankarani-Fard A, Lian LJ, Stelzner M, Asch SM. Preoperative processes and outcomes after implementation of a hospitalist-run preoperative clinic. J Hosp Med. 2012 Sep 7. doi:10.1002/jhm.1968.

Delirium after Cardiac Surgery Associated with Prolonged Cognitive Impairment

Clinical question: Is postoperative delirium associated with decreased cognitive function in the first year after cardiac surgery?

Background: In general populations, delirium has been associated with long-term decline in cognitive ability. Delirium and cognitive dysfunction are both common following cardiac surgery, but the effects of postoperative delirium on the trajectory of cognitive function over time is unclear.

Study design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Two academic medical centers and a Veterans Administration hospital.

Synopsis: Two hundred twenty-five patients aged 60 or older who were scheduled to undergo coronary artery bypass grafting or valve replacement surgery were included. Patients underwent preoperative assessment cognitive function with the use of the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). Starting on postoperative Day 2, patients underwent daily assessment for delirium. After discharge, cognitive function was reassessed at months one, six, and 12.

Postoperative delirium occurred in 103 patients (46%). Patients with delirium were older, had higher comorbidity scores, and had lower MMSE scores at baseline. Among the overall study population, adjusted MMSE scores dropped 4.6 points from baseline to postoperative Day 2, then were observed to increase by approximately one point per day during postoperative days 3 to 5 with minimal change thereafter. Patients with delirium had greater decrease in cognitive function in the immediate postoperative period compared to patients without delirium (7.7 points vs. 2.1, P<0.001).

Patients without delirium returned to their baseline cognitive ability by one month postoperatively, while patients who had delirium were still making gains up to six months post-operatively, never returning to baseline level of function by one year. Unmeasured confounders and uncertain sensitivity of the MMSE to detect mild cognitive impairment might limit these findings.

Bottom line: Cognitive function decreases in the immediate postoperative period following cardiac surgery. Compared to patients without delirium, patients with delirium experience more dramatic and prolonged cognitive impairment postoperatively, without returning to their preoperative level of cognitive function at one year.

Citation: Saczynski JS, Marcantonio ER, Quach L, et al. Cognitive trajectories after postoperative delirium. New Engl J Med. 2012;367:30-39.

Benefits of Resuming Anticoagulation after GI Bleed Outweigh Risks for Most Patients

Clinical question: In warfarin-treated patients who have experienced gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, what are the patterns of restarting warfarin therapy and the incidence of thrombosis, recurrent GI bleed, and death in the 90 days following index bleed?

Background: In warfarin-treated patients who experience GI bleeding, warfarin is often temporarily held or permanently discontinued, placing patients at increased risk for developing thromboembolism. Little is known about the risks, benefits, and timing of restarting warfarin in this patient population.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

Synopsis: Using clinical and administrative databases, 442 patients who presented with GI bleeding while receiving warfarin therapy were identified. Patients were grouped by whether they resumed warfarin (n=260, including 41 patients in whom anticoagulation was never interrupted), or did not resume warfarin therapy (n=182) in the 90 days following index GI bleed. Patients with prosthetic heart valves or GI bleeding localized to the rectum/anus were more commonly restarted on warfarin, whereas older patients and those in whom the source of bleeding was not identified were less likely to be restarted on warfarin therapy.

Restarting warfarin therapy after index GI bleed was associated with lower risk of thrombosis (HR 0.05, 95% CI 0.01-0.58) and death from any cause (HR 0.31, 95% CI 0.15-0.62), and it was not associated with a significant increase in risk for recurrent GI bleed (HR 1.32, 95% CI 0.50-3.57).

The authors concluded that for many patients who experience a warfarin-associated GI bleed, the benefits of restarting warfarin therapy outweigh the risks. No conclusions were made regarding the optimal timing of resuming therapy. Limitations included the use of administrative data and inability to determine the potential influence of aspirin use on outcomes.

Bottom line: Resuming warfarin in the 90 days following a warfarin-associated GI bleed is associated with decreased risk of thrombosis and death without increased risk for recurrent GI bleed.

Citation: Witt DM, Delate T, Garcia DA, et al. Risk of thromboembolism, recurrent hemorrhage, and death after warfarin therapy interruption for gastrointestinal tract bleeding. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Sep 12. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.4261.

Preoperative Hyponatremia Associated with Increased Risk for Perioperative Complications and Mortality

Clinical question: Is preoperative hyponatremia an indicator of perioperative morbidity and mortality?

Background: Hyponatremia is a common diagnosis in the hospital setting and is associated with adverse outcomes, even in mild cases. However, it is unclear if this association exists in surgical patients when detected preoperatively.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Academic and community hospitals participating in the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP).

Synopsis: A total of 75,423 adult patients with hyponatremia (sodium <135 mEq/L) who were undergoing major surgery were compared to 888,840 patients with normal preoperative sodium levels over a six-year period. The primary outcome was 30-day mortality. Secondary outcomes included postoperative major coronary events, stroke, wound infection, pneumonia, and length of stay (LOS).

Compared to patients with normal sodium levels, those with preoperative hyponatremia had higher rates of perioperative mortality (5.2% vs. 1.3%; adjusted odds ratio 1.44, 95% CI 1.38-1.50), with increased risk that correlated with increasing severity of hyponatremia. Association with postoperative mortality was particularly strong among hyponatremic patients with ASA scores of 1 or 2 and those undergoing nonemergency surgery.

Patients with preoperative hyponatremia were also found to have increased risk for all postoperative complications evaluated, with the exception of stroke. Limitations included the potential for unmeasured confounders and not being able to account for the role of medications used perioperatively. Research is needed to determine whether correcting preoperative hyponatremia lessens the risk of mortality and other postoperative complications.

Bottom line: Among patients undergoing major surgery, preoperative hyponatremia is a predictor of postoperative 30-day mortality and morbidity.

Citation: Leung AA, McAlister FA, Rogers SO, et al. Preoperative hyponatremia and perioperative complications. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:1-8.

Clinical Shorts


Randomized controlled trial showed similar rates of phlebitis, infiltration, occlusion, accidental removal, bloodstream infection, local infection, and mortality in patients with IV removal only when clinically indicated, compared with routine IV removal after three days.

Citation: Rickard CM, Webster J, Wallis MC, et al. Routine versus clinically indicated replacement of peripheral intravenous catheters: a randomized controlled equivalence trial. Lancet. 2012;380:1066-1074.


Meta-analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials showed that vaptans have a small beneficial effect on ascites, but do not reduce mortality or other complications in cirrhosis; thus, data do not support routine use of vaptans in the management of cirrhosis.

Citation: Dahl E, Gludd LL, Kimer N, Krag A. Meta-analysis: the safety and efficacy of vaptans (tolvaptan, satavaptan and lixivaptan) in cirrhosis with ascites or hyponatremia. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2012;36:619-626.


A large Danish observational study of post-MI patients found that clopidogrel use in diabetic patients was associated with decreased effectiveness in reducing the risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality compared with clopidogrel use in nondiabetic patients.

Citation: Andersson C, Lyngbæk S, Nguyen C, et al. Association of clopidogrel treatment with risk of mortality and cardiovascular events following myocardial infarction in patients with and without diabetes. JAMA. 2012;308:882-889.


Single center retrospective cohort study showed that implementation of a neurohospitalist service decreased length of stay and cost (adjusted for severity of disease and admitting service) without impacting mortality or 30-day readmissions.

Citation: Douglas VC, Scott BJ, Berg G, Freeman WD, Josephson, SA. Effects of a neurohospitalist service on outcomes at an academic medical center. Neurology. 2012;79:988-994.

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