Evaluation of a Problem-Specific SBAR Tool to Improve After-Hours Nurse-Physician Phone Communication: A Randomized Trial

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Background: After-hours telephone communications are common in patient management. Patterns of communication of key information during after-hours phone calls were evaluated, and the utility of problem-specific Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation (SBAR) forms in improving this communication was assessed.

Methods: In a randomized trial using a simulated on-call setting, 20 nurses called physicians regarding six cases adapted from inpatient records and based on the six most common reasons for after-hours nurse-physician communication. Three of the cases were handled without the SBAR forms (control cases), and three cases were handled with the forms (SBAR cases). Two cue types of communication were evaluated: situation cues, which conveyed the patient's situation (for example, a patient is confused), and background cues, which conveyed problem-specific data indicated on the SBAR forms (for example, the patient has a low sodium level).

Results: Ninety-two phone calls were analyzed (43 SBAR/49 controls). Most of the nurses reported the situation cues (SBAR 88%, control 84%, p = .60) but not the background cues. There was a trend toward fewer background cues communicated in the SBAR cases (14% versus 31%, p = .08). In 14% of the cases, on average, nurses omitted information or reported wrong information regarding the background cue. Physicians asked questions that resulted in the communication of the cues in a minority of the cases when the background cues were not originally provided by the nurses (SBAR 6%, control 16%, p = .39).

Conclusions: In after-hours phone communication between physicians and nurses, significant information was often not communicated and physicians did not elicit the necessary information. Simply providing an SBAR–based form did not ensure complete communication of key information.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2013

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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.

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