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How can communication to GPs at hospital discharge be improved? A Systems Approach

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Barclay, Stephen 
Bashford, Thomas 
Clarkson, Peter 


Abstract Background Poor communication to GPs at hospital discharge threatens patient safety and continuity of care, with reliance on discharge summaries commonly written by the most junior doctors. Previous quality improvement efforts have largely focused on adherence to standardised templates, with limited success. A lack of understanding has been identified as a cause of the issue’s resistance to improvement after decades of work. Aim To understand the system of communication to GPs at hospital discharge, with a view to identifying potential routes to improvement. Design, Setting A qualitative exploration of the secondary-to-primary care communication system surrounding a UK tertiary hospital Method A ‘systems approach’, recently defined for the healthcare domain, was used to structure and thematically analyse interviews (n=18) of clinical and administrative staff from both sides of the primary-secondary care interface and a subsequent focus group. Results The largely one-way communication system structure and the low level of hospital stakeholder insight into recipient GP needs emerged as consistent hindrances to system performance and quality of care. More open lines of communication and shared records might enable greater collaboration to share feedback and resolve informational deficits. Teaching sessions and assessments for medical students and junior doctors led by GPs could help to instil the importance of detail and nuance in relation to using standardised communication templates. Conclusion Facilitating the sharing of performance insights between stakeholder groups emerged as the key theme of how communication might be improved. The empirical measures proposed have the potential to mitigate the safety risks of key barriers to performance, such as patient complexity.



communication, interprofessional communication, patient discharge, patient safety, primary–secondary care interface, service improvement, systems approach

Journal Title

British Journal of General Practice Open

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Volume Title


Royal College of General Practitioners