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Reasons for After-Hours Calls by Hospital Floor Nurses to On-Call Physicians

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Abstract:

Background: Communication failure is a common root cause of preventable medical errors affecting hospitalized patients. A study was conducted to determine the reasons for calls made by nurses working on the general medical wards to on-call physicians from 6:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M.

Methods: A retrospective review was performed of a random sample of 500 inpatients admitted to general medical wards at an urban public teaching hospital in Houston between January 1, 2000, and February 28, 2003.

Results: In 139 (47%) of 293 medical records there were 304 documented calls. The majority of calls (81%) took place between 6:00 P.M. and 2:00 A.M., with peak call volume between midnight and 2:00 P.M. Patients with one or more calls had an average of 2.2 calls during their stay. Ten categories accounted for 65% of all the nurse calls. In 44% of calls, physicians responded by ordering a medication.

Discussion: Communication between floor nurses and on-call physicians might be improved by several interventions. Because 10 reasons accounted for 65% of after-hours calls, protocols could allow nurses to resolve some acute problems without physician involvement. For example, appropriate standing orders (e.g., P.R.N. medications) may prevent some calls. In addition, sign-out procedures can be tailored to address common problems that are likely to require future telephone communication. With efforts to change error-prone systems, it seems prudent to focus on after-hours coverage.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2007

More about this publication?
  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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