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Handoff Processes and Interprofessional Communication


In the inpatient setting, rising patient volume and acuity, coupled with duty hour restrictions, has required an increase in the number of handoffs of patient care from one physician to another. It is therefore of paramount importance that handoffs be conducted in a high quality manner.
Whenever feasible, handoff communications should be face-to-face, in a relatively quiet setting, with simultaneous availability of Health Link and PACS. In simple cases (e.g., the night float resident is assuming care for a stable epilepsy monitoring unit patient with whom he’s already familiar), asynchronous communication via secure messaging or the sign-out list is permissible.
In accordance with UW Health and GME policies, our 1residency and fellowship programs standardizes the handoff process according to the acronym IDEAL:
I:    Identify the patient, service, and attending physician
D:  Diagnosis and current condition
E:   Events that have recently occurred
A:   Anticipated changes in condition or treatment—what to watch out for
L:   Leave time for questions and discussion
Following is a summary of the Clinical Neurophysiology Fellowship program’s handoffs:
Morning sign-out occurs at ~ 0800 each weekday. All of the previous week treating epilepsy team including residents, fellows, and faculty gather with the team coming on service each Monday morning to review the  EEG list to ensure adequate hand-off. This may also be done via e-mail if certain team members are not available to meet in person, in which case the on-call fellow or faculty sends a comprehensive e-mail via secure hospital e-mail to all of the relevant parties. Similarly, the hand-off for fellow on call involves an in person hand-off at 4pm the night they are assuming call and again at 8am when handing off patients to the oncoming team.  

Interprofessional Communication

Both in the clinic and on the wards, neurology is very much an interprofessional discipline. Nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech/language pathologists, neuro- and health psychologists, dieticians, respiratory therapists, social workers, and case managers all play crucial roles in our patients’ care. Importantly, optimal patient care depends not just on having members of these various disciplines independently performing their evaluations and treatments, but on actual collaboration among the team members; this is what is meant by the term “interprofessional”. The sine qua non of an interprofessional team is communication; in our residency program, interprofessional communications occur constantly throughout the workday, and formally occur at the following times:

  • Epilepsy interdisciplinary rounds—Friday at 8:30 AM. Neurosurgery, neuroradiology, epilepsy, and neuropsychology discuss complex epilepsy cases and decide on a treatment plan to present to patient.
  • Afternoon/weekend sign-out / interdisciplinary rounds—as above.

Learning and Assessment

The above handoff processes and our program’s emphasis on interprofessional teamwork are introduced in our orientation sessions each July. In the fall, we hold additional conferences with our PT, OT, speech, and social work / case management colleagues to learn about their roles in more detail and to facilitate team building and communication. Further, interprofessional communication is an important aspect of clinical case reviews.
Assessment and feedback regarding fellows’ handoff and communication skills occurs via a variety of methods:

  • Epilepsy faculty directly receive the fellows’ handoff several times a week and observe the fellow-to-fellow handoffs and are able to incorporate these findings into fellow’s rotation evaluation.
  • There is peer-to-peer evaluation of fellow-to-fellow and fellow to resident handoffs via electronic peer evaluations.

Latest Revision: 12/1/2017