Comparative assessment of content overlap between written documentation and verbal communication: An observational study of resident sign-outs

Joanna Abraham, Imade Ihianle, Charlotte E. Ward, Vineet M. Arora, Thomas G. Kannampallil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: Effective sign-outs involve verbal communication supported by written or electronic documentation. We investigated the clinical content overlap between sign-out documentation and face-to-face verbal sign-out communication. Methods: We audio-recorded resident verbal sign-out communication and collected electronically completed ("written") sign-out documentation on 44 sign-outs in a General Medicine service. A content analysis framework with nine sign-out elements was used to qualitatively code both written and verbal sign-out content. A content overlap framework based on the comparative analysis between written and verbal sign-out content characterized how much written content was verbally communicated. Using this framework, we computed the full, partial, and no overlap between written and verbal content. Results: We found high a high degree of full overlap on patient identifying information [name (present in 100% of sign-outs), age (96%), and gender (87%)], past medical history [hematology (100%), renal (100%), cardiology (79%), and GI (67%)], and tasks to-do (97%); lesser degree of overlap for active problems (46%), anticipatory guidance (46%), medications/treatments (15%), pending labs/studies/procedures (7%); and no overlap for code status (<1%), allergies (0%) and medical record number (0%). Discussion and Conclusion: Three core functions of sign-outs are transfer of information, responsibility, and accountability. The overlap-highlighting what written content was communicated-characterizes how these functions manifest during sign-outs. Transfer of information varied with patient identifying information being explicitly communicated and remaining content being inconsistently communicated. Transfer of responsibility was explicit, with all pending and future tasks being communicated. Transfer of accountability was limited, with limited discussion of written contingency plans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-217
Number of pages8
JournalJAMIA Open
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2018


  • Content overlap
  • Qualitative analysis
  • Resident handoffs
  • Safety
  • Sign-out


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