New handoff tool can improve safety

Standardization of process reduces variation


Hospitalists know all too well that a significant source of medical errors is miscommunication during transitions: By interrupting the continuity of care, handoffs can increase the risk of adverse events.

Yet the transfer of patients from the ED to the hospitalist inpatient service has not been well studied, said Carmen Gonzalez, MD, lead author of a recent paper that examined the issue. “The scope of this study was to develop and test a handoff communication tool and a standardized process for transitioning patients from the ED to the hospitalist service at a comprehensive cancer center,” she explained.

In the study, the researchers found that the number of ICU transfers within 24 hours of admission and the number of rapid-response calls decreased after the implementation of a customized handoff tool. “The tool was named DE-PASS (DE-PASS: Decisive problem requiring admission, Evaluation time, Patient summary, Acute issues/action list, Situation unfinished/awareness, Signed out to), which was a modification of the I-PASS, and adapted to our workflow,” reported Dr. Gonzalez, who is based at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. DE-PASS stratifies patients as stable/urgent/emergent and establishes requirements for communications between providers.

Results from the 1-month pilot revealed that, within a 24-hour period, DE-PASS reduced the number of intensive care unit transfers by 58%, the number of rapid-response team calls by 39%, and time to inpatient order by 31%.

“The standardization of the language and format of the handoff process of admission from the ED to the hospitalist service reduced handoff variations, increased provider satisfaction, and improved patient safety,” she noted.

The hospitalists expressed satisfaction with the tool. “This handoff tool helps stratify newly admitted patients based on their illness acuity, hence, assists the busy admitting hospitalist in prioritizing which patient needs to be attended first,” said study coauthor Norman Brito-Dellan, MD, also of MD Anderson Cancer Center. “In this study, DE-PASS reduced admission-to-evaluation times for unstable patients. These patients tend to be evaluated earlier, improving safety.”


1. Gonzalez CE et al. Handoff tool enabling standardized transitions between the emergency department and the hospitalist inpatient service at a major cancer center. American Journal of Medical Quality. 2018 May 21. doi: 10.1177/1062860618776096.

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