Rachel Waldron, MD and Diane M. Sixsmith, MD, MPH
Introduction – Maintaining patient safety during transition from prehospital to emergency department (ED) care depends on effective handoff communication between providers. We sought to determine emergency physicians’ (EP) knowledge of the care provided by paramedics in terms of both procedures and medications, and whether the use of a verbal report improved physician accuracy.
Methods – We conducted a 2-phase observational survey of a convenience sample of EPs in an urban, academic ED. In this large ED paramedics have no direct contact with physicians for non-critical patients, giving their report instead to the triage nurse. In Phase 1, paramedics gave verbal report to the triage nurse only. In Phase 2, a research assistant (RA) stationed in triage listened to this report and then repeated it back verbatim to the EPs caring for the patient. The RA then queried the EPs 90 minutes later regarding their patients’ prehospital procedures and medications. We compared the accuracy of these 2 reporting methods.
Results – There were 163 surveys completed in Phase 1 and 116 in Phase 2. The oral report had no effect on EP awareness that the patient had been brought in by ambulance (86% in Phase 1 and 85% in Phase 2.) The oral report did improve EP awareness of prehospital procedures, from 16% in Phase 1 to 45% in Phase 2, OR=4.28 (2.5–7.5). EPs were able to correctly identify all oral medications in 18% of Phase 1 cases and 47% of Phase 2 cases, and all IV medications in 42% of Phase 1 cases and 50% of Phase 2 cases. The verbal report led to a mild improvement in physician awareness of oral medications given, OR=4.0 (1.09–14.5), and no improvement in physician awareness of IV medications given, OR=1.33 (0.15–11.35). Using a composite score of procedures plus oral plus IV medications, physicians had all three categories correct in 15% of Phase 1 and 39% of Phase 2 cases (p<0.0001).
Conclusion – EPs in our ED were unaware of many prehospital procedures and medications regardless of the method used to provide this information. The addition of a verbal hand-off report resulted in a modest improvement in overall accuracy.