Background After-hours out-of-hospital phone consultations require physicians to make decisions based on information provided by a nurse over the phone.
Methods We conducted a simulation study to evaluate physicians’ actions following communication of key information. 22 nurses were asked to call physicians with six cases based on the six most common reasons for after-hours phone calls. We evaluated physicians’ actions following the communication of key clinical information: A situation cue described a patient's problem (eg, confusion). A background cue described a specific clinical finding regarding the cause of the problem (eg, patient's sodium is low). For each cue we defined a list of indicators, based on the medical literature, to ascertain whether physicians acted upon the provided information (which was defined as addressing at least one of the indicators).
Results A total of 108 phone consultations (containing 88 situation and 93 background cues) were analysed. Situation cues were communicated in 90% (79/88) of the calls and background cues in 33% (31/93). Physician acted upon the provided information in 57% (45/79) and 48% (15/31) of the communicated situation and background cues, respectively. When the background cues were not communicated, physicians asked questions expected to elicit the cue in 12% of the cases. Responding to the situation cue was associated with longer conversations and active inquiry by the physician.
Conclusions After-hours phone calls are error prone. Both nurse communication and physician decision-making are problematic. Efforts to improve patient safety in this setting must address both communication and decision-making.
- Diagnostic Errors
- Hospital Medicine
- Human Error
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