Transitions of Care Consensus Policy Statement: American College of Physicians, Society of General Internal Medicine, Society of Hospital Medicine, American Geriatrics Society, American College of Emergency Physicians, and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Vincenza Snow, MD; Dennis Beck, MD; Tina Budnitz, MPH; Doriane C. Miller, MD; Jane Potter, MD; Robert L. Wears, MD; Kevin B. Weiss, MD, MPH; Mark V. Williams, MD


August 13, 2009

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The American College of Physicians, Society of Hospital Medicine, and Society of General Internal Medicine convened a multi-stakeholder consensus conference in July 2007 to address the quality gaps in the transitions between inpatient and outpatient settings and to develop consensus standards for these transitions. Over 30 organizations sent representatives to the Transitions of Care Consensus Conference. Participating organizations included medical specialty societies from internal medicine as well as family medicine and pediatrics, governmental agencies such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, performance measure developers such as the National Committee for Quality Assurance and the American Medical Association Physician Consortium on Performance Improvement, nurse associations such as the Visiting Nurse Associations of America and Home Care and Hospice, pharmacist groups, and patient groups such as the Institute for Family-Centered Care. The Transitions of Care Consensus Conference made recommendations for standards concerning the transitions between inpatient and outpatient settings for future implementation. The American College of Physicians, Society of Hospital Medicine, Society of General Internal Medicine, American Geriatric Society, American College of Emergency Physicians, and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine all endorsed this document. Journal of Hospital Medicine 2009;4:364-370. © 2009 Society of Hospital Medicine.


Studies of the transition of care between inpatient and outpatient settings have shown that there are significant patient safety and quality deficiencies in our current system. The transition from the hospital setting to the outpatient setting has been more extensively studied than the transition from the outpatient setting to the inpatient setting. One prospective cohort study of 400 patients found that 1 in 5 patients discharged from the hospital to home experienced an adverse event, which was defined as an injury resulting from medical management rather than the underlying disease, within 3 weeks of discharge.[1] This study also concluded that 66% of these were drug-related adverse events, many of which could have been avoided or mitigated. Another prospective cross-sectional study of 2644 patient discharges found that approximately 40% of the patients had pending test results at the time of discharge and that 10% of these required some action, yet the outpatient physicians and patients were unaware of these results.[2] Medication discrepancies have also been shown to be prevalent, with 1 prospective observational study of 375 patients showing that 14% of elderly patients had 1 or more medication discrepancies and 14% of those patients with medication discrepancies were rehospitalized within 30 days versus 6% of the patients who did not experience a medication discrepancy.[3] A recent review of the literature cited improving transitional care as a key area of opportunity for improving postdischarge care[4]

Lack of communication has clearly been shown to adversely affect postdischarge care transitions.[5] A recent summary of the literature by a Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM)/Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM) task force found that direct communication between hospital physicians and primary care physicians occurs infrequently (in 3%-20% of cases studied), and the availability of a discharge summary at the first postdischarge visit is low (12%-34%) and does not improve greatly even after 4 weeks (51%-77%); this affects the quality of care in approximately 25% of follow-up visits.[5] This systematic review of the literature also found that discharge summaries often lack important information such as diagnostic test results, the treatment or hospital course, discharge medications, test results pending at discharge, patient or family counseling, and follow-up plans.

However, the lack of studies of the communication between ambulatory physicians and hospital physicians prior to admission or during emergency department (ED) visits does not imply that this communication is not equally important and essential to high-quality care. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the greatest source of hospital admissions in many institutions is the ED. Over 115,000,000 visits were made to the nation's approximately 4828 EDs in 2005, and about 85.2% of ED visits end in discharge.[6] The ED is also the point of re-entry into the system for individuals who may have had an adverse outcome linked to a prior hospitalization.[6] Communication between hospital physicians and primary care physicians must be established to create a loop of continuous care and diminish morbidity and mortality at this critical transition point.

While transitions can be a risky period for patient safety, observational studies suggest there are benefits to transitions. A new physician may notice something overlooked by the current caregivers.[7,8,9,10,11,12] Another factor contributing to the challenges of care transitions is the lack of a single clinician or clinical entity taking responsibility for coordination across the continuum of the patient's overall healthcare, regardless of setting.[13] Studies indicate that a relationship with a medical home is associated with better health on both the individual and population levels, with lower overall costs of care and with reductions in disparities in health between socially disadvantaged subpopulations and more socially advantaged populations.[14] Several medical societies have addressed this issue, including the American College of Physicians (ACP), SGIM, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Academy of Pediatrics, and they have proposed the concept of the medical home or patient-centered medical home, which calls for clinicians to assume this responsibility for coordinating their patients' care across settings and for the healthcare system to value and reimburse clinicians for this patient-centered and comprehensive method of practice.[15,16,17]

Finally, patients and their families or caregivers have an important role to play in transitions of care. Several observational and cross-sectional studies have shown that patients and their caregivers and families express significant feelings of anxiety during care transitions. This anxiety can be caused by a lack of understanding and preparation for their self-care role in the next care setting, confusion due to conflicting advice from different practitioners, and a sense of abandonment attributable to the inability to contact an appropriate healthcare practitioner for guidance, and they report an overall disregard for their preferences and input into the design of the care plan.[18,19,20] Clearly, there is room for improvement in all these areas of the inpatient and outpatient care transition, and the Transitions of Care Consensus Conference (TOCCC) attempted to address these areas by developing standards for the transition of care that also harmonize with the work of the Stepping up to the Plate (SUTTP) Alliance of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation.[21] In addition, other important stakeholders are addressing this topic and actively working to improve communication and continuity in care, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Quality Forum (NQF). CMS recently developed the Continuity Assessment Record & Evaluation (CARE) tool, a data collection instrument designed to be a standardized, interoperable, common assessment tool to capture key patient characteristics that will provide information related to resource utilization, clinical outcomes, and postdischarge disposition. NQF held a national forum on care coordination in the spring of 2008.

In summary, it is clear that there are qualitative and quantitative deficiencies in transitions of care between the inpatient and outpatient setting that are affecting patient safety and experience with care. The transition from the inpatient setting to the outpatient setting has been more extensively studied, and this body of literature has underscored for the TOCCC several important areas in need of guidance and improvement. Because of this, the scope of application of this document should initially emphasize inpatient-to-outpatient transitions as a first step in learning how to improve these processes. However, the transition from the outpatient setting to the inpatient setting also is a clear priority. Because the needs for transfer of information, authority, and responsibility may be different in these situations, a second phase of additional work to develop principles to guide these transitions should be undertaken as quickly as possible. Experience gained in applying these principles to inpatient-to-outpatient transitions might usefully inform such work.

Communication among providers and with the patients and their families arose as a clear priority. Medication discrepancies, pending tests, and unknown diagnostic or treatment plans have an immediate impact on patients' health and outcomes. The TOCCC discussed what elements should be among the standard pieces of information exchanged among providers during these transition points. The dire need for coordination of care or a coordinating clinician/medical home became a clear theme in the deliberations of the TOCCC. Most importantly, the role of the patients and their families/caregivers in their continuing care is apparent, and the TOCCC felt this must be an integral part of any principles or standards for transitions of care.

The Transitions of Care Consensus Conference was funded by an unrestricted educational grant from Novo Nordisk as part of the American College of Physicians Diabetes Initiative and by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The funders had no input into the planning, structure, content, participants, or outcomes of the conference. This article is also being published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine [Vincenza Snow, Dennis Beck, Tina Budnitz, Doriane C. Miller, Jane Potter, Robert L. Wears, Kevin B. Weiss, Mark V. Williams. Transitions of Care Consensus Policy Statement American College of Physicians-Society of General Internal Medicine-Society of Hospital Medicine-American Geriatrics Society-American College of Emergency Physicians-Society of Academic Emergency Medicine]. J Gen Intern Med 2009 (online in advance of print).

The Transitions of Care Consensus Conference is described in Appendix A, and conflicts of interest are listed in Appendix B.


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