August 10, 2009

Medical ‘fumbled handoff’ leads to errors

There are breakdowns in communication between hospital discharge summaries and doctors supposed to get test results and information, U.S. researchers said.

First author Dr. Martin Were of the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University School of Medicine and colleagues identified 668 hospital discharges with pending test results.

The study, scheduled to be published in the September issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found 16 percent of the 2,927 tests with pending results were mentioned in the discharge summaries.

Sixty-seven percent of discharge summaries indicated which primary care outpatient doctor was responsible for following up with the patient after discharge.

We found that a huge number -- 72 percent -- of test results requiring treatment change were not mentioned in discharge summaries, Were said in a statement.

So an outpatient provider likely would not even have known that the results of these tests needed to be followed up. In the patient safety arena, this is what you call a 'fumbled handoff' -- and it leads to medical errors.