Transitions – What you don’t know can hurt you

Still exploring communication across transitions.  This week speaking with clinicians. First, with case managers in an acute, short-term rehabilitation center serving people with recent strokes, heart conditions, or surgeries needing less than a month of intensive therapy. The transition points between nurses shift to shift, between physicians and between case managers, between patients, families, and primary care clinicians at discharge worked the best because they’re well documented and standardized. Tools are in place for the sharing of information. Either the hand-offs between clinicians are routine or patient education notebooks are completed the same for every patient: not the same contents but the same workflow. Since it’s not acute care (short stays)  there  is more for hand-offs and to develop relationships with the patient and their caring network and time for patients and families to absorb the instructions. A considerable volume of paper is generated, resulting in lots to read and lots to fax (everything by fax!). Maybe too much to read.  Information coming in with patients was less complete than information going out with patients. Communication was better in general and more complete if a person received all their care within the same health system.  The biggest risk? Not receiving information about critical medications, such as blood thinners, steroids, and antidepressants.

Next, a community Primary Care clinic. Again, communication best when a person is discharged from a hospital within the same health system as their clinic. Then a nurse knows when someone is going to be discharged or has been discharged.  The nurse calls the patient at home and can let the doctor know that the patient has their prescriptions filled, knows what to do, or if anything needs attention. For the patient discharged from a hospital outside the health system, the clinic often doesn’t know the patient was even in the hospital and has to scramble to gather information so they can support the person. The transition from home to office works least well.  Someone calls the office needing an appointment or has a question or needs a prescription filled. The quality of screening, triage, and information gathering varies widely  The more the patient or caregiver takes charge, the better the communication with the call center the better the clinic visit goes. Transition communication with specialists outside the system seemed quite a challenge without a common EHR for communication.

Several themes in common – communication is hugely better within a health system.  Time makes a difference – the more time to build a relationship the better the communication. Yet patients and families that take charge can trump the lack of time. Both settings described a process to evaluate reported occurrences of communication breakdown.  The key words are reported and  occurrences. Many go unreported. The time to formally report can be long. Attention to fixing the workflow either happens from the top down (a boss makes a change) most often as a result of a bad outcome – harm to a person, potential or actual law suit, or a vocal persistent complainer. My questions generated interest, provoked passion and frustration overlaying a sense of uneasiness.  They worry most about what they don’t know, what they miss, that might increase a patient or family suffering.

One Comment

  • Sue says:

    Just perfect for me this week Danny–as our life goes through a flurry of small medical events for ourselves–but still requiring proper information and understanding of evolving medication instructions going forward. Plus what feels like a tsunami (over the last 2 weeks) of news of dire, hard to bear diagnoses, &/or ongoing medical treatment for at least 7 beloved friends and family members. Thank you for giving this clear close-up portrait of the transition points we navigate in our medical care.

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