Background Sign-out is the process (written, verbal or both) by which one clinical team transmits information about patients to another team. Poor quality sign-outs are associated with adverse events and delayed treatment. How different specialties approach written sign-outs is unknown.
Objective To compare written sign-out practices across specialties and to determine consistency of content, format and timeliness.
Methods The authors evaluated all non-Intensive Care Unit written sign-outs from five inpatient specialties on 18 January 2012, at Yale-New Haven Hospital, focusing on content elements, format style and whether the sign-outs had been updated within 24 h. In our institution, all specialties used a single standardised sign-out template, which was built into the electronic medical record.
Results The final cohort included 457 sign-outs: 313 medicine, 64 general surgery, 36 paediatrics, 30 obstetrics, and 14 gynaecology. Though nearly all sign-outs (96%) had been updated within 24 h, they frequently lacked key information. Hospital course prevalence ranged from 57% (gynaecology) to 100% (paediatrics) (p<0.001). Clinical condition prevalence ranged from 34% (surgery) to 72% (paediatrics) (p=0.005).
Conclusions Specialties have varied sign-out practices, and thus structured templates alone do not guarantee inclusion of critical content. Sign-outs across specialties often lacked complex clinical information such as clinical condition, anticipatory guidance and overnight tasks.
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