Continuity rules

Simple operational adjustments your team can make


Although there are many benefits to the hospital medicine model of inpatient care, there is perhaps no greater Achilles heel than the discontinuity inherent to the care model. The trust and familiarity garnered from longitudinal patient-provider relationships is sacrificed for the benefits of focused practice, efficiency, and enhanced availability.

Dr. John Krisa, physician adviser for St. Peter's Health Partners, an integrated health system in the Capital District of New York

Dr. John Krisa

Any system involves competing priorities, and some degree of discontinuity is inevitable. Would it make sense for a hospitalist to stay on service until every panel patient is discharged? For obvious economic, lifestyle, and other reasons, of course not. Our charge then is not to make the perfect the enemy of the good, but to ensure thoughtful and consistent continuity for the good of the patient, the provider, and the hospital. The following tips should help your team achieve the best possible balance.

Avoid orphan rounding shifts

An “orphan” rounding shift refers to a single shift untethered to a stretch. For admitting or administrative duties, this generally poses no problem, but for a rounding shift it is undesirable. No matter how talented or industrious the provider, it is very difficult for them to effectively provide seamless care for a single day; such care is often disconcerting for patients, families, case managers, and consultants. In situations such as significant census spikes, this may be a necessary evil, but avoid this if you can.

Orphan shift duties

If you can’t avoid an orphan rounding shift, be creative regarding which patients get assigned. Can that provider cover observation or simple short stay patients who may be discharged, or consult follow ups that may be signed off? Can they see stable long-stay patients where the plan isn’t changing and the patient isn’t going anywhere? (Think guardianships, chronic ventilated patients awaiting a facility, stable patients with a history of intravenous drug abuse who may not be safely discharged with a line, etc.) Can they do lab, culture, or path report follow-up calls? Getting creative in responsibilities for an orphan shift can benefit all involved.

Rounding shifts following admitting shifts

Dedicated admitting and rounding shifts are the norm these days. But rather than a pure stretch of one or the other, consider a few days admitting followed by the rest of the stretch rounding. Particularly in a small- to mid-sized hospital, multiple admits done over a few days (and especially if also cross-covering floor calls) will mean many familiar cases when rounding thereafter.

Standard sign-out that travels with patients

The hospital is a dynamic environment. Patients, providers and staff move around a lot. Given this reality, the importance of a complete standardized and accessible sign-out is paramount.

Imagine a rounder starting their last day with 15 patients. By the end of the shift, some have been discharged, transferred to telemetry or the ICU, or left against medical advice, leaving seven patients to sign out. By the next day, there are eight new faces, including fresh admits or consults from the prior day, swing, and night providers as well as existing patients transferred from telemetry/ICU to the general medical ward. A practical solution incorporates an asynchronous sign-out that travels with the patient regardless of geographic location or which provider(s) are following them. Billing software or census reports can typically achieve this. Of course, allow for additional verbal communication as necessary and appropriate.


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