Crossing the communication chasm: Challenges and opportunities in transitions of care from the hospital to the primary care clinic

Nicholas A. Rattray, Jason J. Sico, Lee Ann M. Cox, Alissa L. Russ, Marianne S. Matthias, Richard M. Frankel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Scopus citations


Background: Transitions of care from specialty and acute settings to primary care abound. Compared to the continuity in end-of-shift handoffs, care transitions involve provider communication between practices and facilities with their own cultures and bureaucracies. Using the transition from acute care to outpatient primary care for stroke/transient ischemic attack (TIA) patients as a case study, this qualitative research explored communication practices and institutional arrangements among clinical providers responsible for longitudinal management of hypertension. In this study, researchers investigated the barriers and facilitators of effective communication between acute stroke/TIA inpatient and primary care providers at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Methods: A multidisciplinary team conducted consensus-based coding and thematic analysis of semistructured interviews with 21 clinical providers (9 with primary responsibilities for inpatient care and 12 with primary responsibilities in outpatient, primary care). Results: Thematic analysis of responses identified three factors that influenced communication between clinical providers: (1) consistent, concise but complete medication and treatment plans; (2) reliable, standardized discharge documentation; (3) use of multiple modes of communication. Participants identified cultural barriers, including challenges with rotating providers at a teaching hospital and local discharge practices. Conclusion: Ambiguity about who is being handed off to and time pressures in the acute setting may lead inpatient providers to give lower priority to discharge communication, leaving outpatient providers with low-quality information. While electronic templates have standardized key components of discharge documentation, improvement opportunities remain. Increased awareness of the challenges and opportunities on each side of the care transfer could foster communication practices that systematically account for the information needs of inpatient and outpatient providers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-137
Number of pages11
JournalJoint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management

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