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Rethinking the Discharge Summary: A Focus on Handoff Communication

Lenert, Leslie A. MD, MS; Sakaguchi, Farrant H. MD, MS; Weir, Charlene R. RN, PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000145

The discharge summary is one of the most critical documents in medical care settings, but it is prone to systematic lapses that compromise the continuity of care. Discontinuity is fostered not only by incomplete inclusion of data (such as pending labs or medication reconciliations) but also by failure to document clinical reasoning and unfinished diagnostic workups. To correct these problems, the authors propose the Situation–Background–Assessment–Recommendations (SBAR) format for discharge summaries. SBAR is already used for handoffs the way Subjective–Objective–Assessment–Plan is for progress notes. The SBAR format supports the concise presentation of relevant information along with guidance for action. It shifts the paradigm and purpose of the discharge summary away from being a “Captain’s Log” (a historical record of the events, actions taken, and their consequences during hospitalization) and towards being a handoff document (a tool for communication between health professionals aimed at ensuring continuity of care). To test SBAR as a template for discharge summaries, the authors have initiated a study to document the impact of the SBAR model on the quality of trainees’ thinking in discharge summaries.

Supplemental Digital Content is available in the text.

Dr. Lenert is professor, Departments of Biomedical Informatics and Internal Medicine, and associate chair for quality and innovation, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Sakaguchi is a postdoctoral fellow, Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Weir is associate professor, Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Utah School of Medicine, and associate director, Veterans Affairs Health System Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center and Salt Lake City Informatics, Decision Enhancement and Surveillance, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Funding/Support: Dr. Sakaguchi is supported by the National Library of Medicine training grant no. T15LM007124.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Supplemental digital content for this article is available at

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Lenert, Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Utah, 26 S. 2000 E., Suite 5700, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-5750; telephone: (801) 581-4080; e-mail:

© 2014 by the Association of American Medical Colleges