It is well documented that transitions of care pose a risk to patient safety. Every year, graduating residents transfer their patient panels to incoming interns, yet in our practice we consistently find that approximately 50% of patients do not return for follow-up care within a year of their resident leaving.
To examine the implications of this lapse of care with respect to chronic disease management, follow-up of abnormal test results, and adherence with routine health care maintenance.
Retrospective chart review
We studied a subset of patients cared for by 46 senior internal medicine residents who graduated in the spring of 2008. 300 patients had been identified as high priority requiring follow-up within a year. We examined the records of the 130 of these patients who did not return for care.
We tabulated unaddressed abnormal test results, missed health care screening opportunities and unmonitored chronic medical conditions. We also attempted to call these patients to identify barriers to follow-up.
These patients had a total of 185 chronic medical conditions. They missed a total of 106 screening opportunities including mammogram (24), Pap smear (60) and colon cancer screening (22). Thirty-two abnormal pathology, imaging and laboratory test results were not followed-up as the graduating senior intended. Among a small sample of patients who were reached by phone, barriers to follow-up included a lack of knowledge about the need to see a physician, distance between home and our office, difficulties with insurance, and transportation.
This study demonstrates the high-risk nature of patient handoffs in the ambulatory setting when residents graduate. We discuss changes that might improve the panel transfer process.