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Dropping the Baton During the Handoff from Emergency Department to Primary Care: Pediatric Asthma Continuity Errors

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Background: The handoff of patient care from emergent to primary care physicians (PCPs) has been associated with critical safety problems, especially for children with chronic diseases. Continuity-of-information (COI) errors occur when relevant information is not transmitted effectively. Follow-up errors occur when a recommended visit or telephone contact does not take place when prescribed. A study was undertaken to assess the COI and follow-up between a tertiary care pediatric emergency department (ED) and PCPs for pediatric patients seeking acute asthma treatment.

Methods: Paper charts were reviewed for evidence of continuity of information and continuity of follow-up within the directed five-day period after an asthma exacerbation as recommended in national guidelines.

Results: Three-hundred fifty pediatric ED visits for asthma by patients attending these community health centers were identified. In 132 (37.7%) of the records, there was no evidence of the patient's ED visit in the record (faxed ED discharge note or handwritten note by provider). In 219 (62.6%), the faxed ED note and/or provider note was present. Illegibility did not contribute to COI errors. There was no recorded contact between patients and PCPs in 218 (62.3%) of the charts, and 11 (3.1%) indicated appointments were scheduled but missed. Follow-up was documented in the remaining 121 (34.6%) charts—109 (31.1%) in clinic and 12 (3.4%) by phone follow-up.

Discussion: More often than not, PCPs appeared to not know that their patients sought medical care in the ED for asthma exacerbations. The majority of patients did not follow up with their providers. More electronically automated and reliable ways of sharing information may diminish COI and follow-up errors and thereby improve patient safety.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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  • 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.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

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