Interunit handoffs from emergency department to inpatient care: A cross-sectional survey of physicians at a university medical center

Christopher J. Smith, Denise H. Britigan, Elizabeth Lyden, Nathan Anderson, Ted J. Welniak, Michael C. Wadman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background: Emergency department (ED) to inpatient physician handoffs are subject to complex challenges. We assessed physicians' perceptions of the ED admission handoff process and identified potential barriers to safe patient care. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey at a 627-bed tertiary care academic medical center. Eligible participants included all resident, fellow, and faculty physicians directly involved in admission handoffs from emergency medicine (EM) and 5 medical admitting services. The survey addressed communication quality, clinical information, interpersonal perceptions, assignment of responsibilities, organizational factors, and patient safety. Participants reported their responses via a 5-point Likert scale and an open-ended description of handoff-related adverse events. Results: Response rates were 63% for admitting (94/150) and 86% for EM physicians (32/37). Compared to EM respondents, admitting physicians reported that vital clinical information was communicated less frequently for all 8 content areas (P < 0.001). Ninety-four percent of EM physicians felt defensive at least "sometimes." Twenty-nine percent of all respondents reported handoff-related adverse events, most frequently related to ineffective communication. Sequential handoffs were common for both EM and admitting services, with 78% of physicians reporting they negatively impacted patient care. Conclusion: Physicians reported that patient safety was often at risk during the ED admission handoff process. Admitting and EM physicians had divergent perceptions regarding handoff communication, and sequential handoffs were common. Further research is needed to better understand this complex process and to investigate strategies for improvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)711-717
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Hospital Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Leadership and Management
  • Fundamentals and skills
  • Health Policy
  • Care Planning
  • Assessment and Diagnosis


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