American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

Advertisement

Useless charts and fresh eyes in handoffs

From the September ACP Hospitalist, copyright © 2011 by the American College of Physicians

By Vineet Arora, FACP

ACP Hospitalist's blog runs frequent excerpts by Vineet Arora, FACP, who is associate program director for internal medicine residency and assistant dean of scholarship and discovery at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine. FutureDocs, her own blog, covers medical education news and policy, as well as career advising.

Last month, I was a speaker for the American Medical Student Association on their patient safety webinar. This was the brainchild of Aliye Runyan, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Miami, and her colleagues, to expand the patient safety taught to medical students. They are not alone. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement Open School also virally spreads patient safety training where traditional med schools have failed.

Photo courtesy of Vineet Arora.

Photo courtesy of Vineet Arora.



My topic was handoffs. I wondered what I could tell mostly preclinical medical students, some of whom may not have even entered the clinical arena, about the issue. Would what I said be over their heads and irrelevant if they had no clinical context? I was also hoping there were some fourth years on the call who could talk about their experiences doing handoffs as sub-interns.

But I forgot about the importance of “fresh eyes,” a concept that is sometimes used to describe the one positive aspect of a handoff—that sometimes the best insights come from someone who is not well acquainted with the case. I had a lot of fresh eyes (and mostly ears) on the call. In the vibrant Q&A session that followed (and continued via e-mail), one thing the medical students asked me about is something bad in signouts: “TMI” or “too much information.” This often happens when the signout is used to help the primary team track the patient, but it loses its function for the receiver. In hospitals with electronic health records, TMI is often a symptom of “CoPaGA syndrome” or “copy-and-paste-gone-amok syndrome.”

This led to the most interesting debate of the night: Why has the medical chart become so useless that people feel they need to use the signout this way? I was asked to think about this question again later in a meeting with our Epic staff, who are working to create an automatic signout system for our residents. They really wanted to know why we needed a separate system. Since our residents have iPads, why couldn't they just look at the record?

I had to think about that one. I said that the chart is an archive that is most helpful for people who know the patient. It is also one large medical bill. The truth of the matter is that the medical record is not all that helpful when you don't know a patient and you have to make a quick, on-the-spot decision. This is why we can't ask a busy resident who doesn't know a given patient to pause to look in an electronic health record to answer the clinical question of the moment. The information there is overwhelming.

Our chief resident had a better answer than me. The night resident needs the CliffsNotes version to answer the question since he or she wasn't assigned (and doesn't have time at that moment) to read the full text.

Of course, handoffs are more than just written information; they also have to include a verbal, interactive component. Just as the implementation of shorter duty hours is still new, so is a requirement that all residency programs make sure their residents are “competent in handoff communications,” both verbal and written. Because programs are looking for a way to meet this requirement, I have racked up quite a few frequent flyer miles visiting residency programs to teach residents about how to perform handoffs better.

After I give a talk, attendees may talk about it for a bit, if I'm lucky. Once, I actually witnessed residents putting some of the principles I taught them into action shortly after I spoke at their resident report. However, these moments are isolated and, as you can guess, education by itself will not translate into practice change (We could talk to the handwashing people all day about that!). So, like handwashing, a monitoring plan for handoffs is also needed. And yes, that is also part of the new requirement—that programs actively monitor resident handoffs.

Top

This is a printer-friendly version of this page

Print this page  |  Close the preview

Share

 
 

Subscribe online

Are you involved in hospital medicine? Then you should be getting ACP Hospitalist and ACP HospitalistWeekly. Subscribe now.

Hospitalist Archives
Quick Links

ACP HospitalistWeekly

From the August 20, 2014 edition

View issue

ACP Career Connection

Looking for a new hospitalist position?

ACP Career Connection can help you find your next job in hospital medicine. Search hospitalist positions nationwide that suit your criteria and preferences. Jobs are posted about two weeks before print publication of Annals of Internal Medicine, ACP Internist, and ACP Hospitalist. Exclusive “Online Direct” opportunities are updated weekly. Check us out online.

ABIM Maintenance of Certification for Hospitalists

Hospital-based internists have the option of maintaining their certification in either Internal Medicine or Internal Medicine with a Focused Practice in Hospital Medicine. Learn more about resources from ACP and the Society for Hospital Medicine to complete both MOC programs.

ACP JournalWise

Reviews of the World's Top Medical Journals—FREE to ACP Members!

New CME Option: Internal Medicine 2014 RecordingsACP JournalWiseSM is mobile optimized with optional email alerts! Get access to reviews from over 120 of the world’s top medical journals alerting you to the highest quality, most clinically relevant new articles based on your preferred areas of specialty. ACP Members register your FREE account now!

New CME Option: Internal Medicine 2014 Recordings

New CME Package

New CME Option: Internal Medicine 2014 RecordingsIncludes 75 of the most popular sessions in internal medicine and the subspecialties. Stream the sessions, answer brief quizzes and earn CME credit. See details.