This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my links, at no cost to you. Please read affiliate disclosure for more information
When I first started working as a bedside RN, one of the aspects of the job that gave me a deep sense of anxiety was having to call the doctor on a patient. Sure – some of them were super nice – but many of them were impatient and rude. Not giving the correct phone report in a format that the physician or Advanced Practice Provider (APP) is looking for can create tension and miscommunication. If you utilize my technique for giving phone report to the physician – the patient’s situation will be more effectively communicated and the encounter will go much smoother.
In this article, I am going to share with you all an effective method for giving a quick report to the physician or APP when you call them in the inpatient setting! I am uniquely positioned to help with this because I work as a Nurse Practitioner in the hospital and receive 20-30 calls per night from floor nurses. I have noticed many improvements that can be made to improve communication – so keep reading!
Step 1: Introduce yourself and the patient
“Hi, My name is Michelle and I’m calling from 1G. I’m the nurse taking care of Anita Lopez in 230-2. Are you familiar with her?”
First you need to introduce who you are, where you’re calling from, and who you’re calling about. I can’t tell you how many times the nurse has called me and launched into a full explanation about the patient and then I have to ask “Who is the patient!?” Oftentimes the inpatient Provider is at the computer and can look up the patient’s chart while the nurse is talking.
Sometimes over the phone it is difficult to understand last names – especially if accents are involved. When you say the patient’s name, it helps if you say “Anita Lopez, that’s L-O-P-E-Z”. Spell out the last name because oftentimes we have censuses pulled up from each floor or hospital which are ordered alphabetically. We usually do not need the spelling of the first name.
It also can be helpfult to include where they are located – their unit and room number. Additionally – the Provider you are calling may only cover certain attending physicians (as is the case at my job). If this is so – give the attending physician as well.
The next step is to ask if they are familiar with the patient. If I just admitted the patient – I don’t need a full explanation of why they’re here and what their medical history is. However, many specialists or Providers who are on call may not be very familiar with the patient yet. It always helps to ask and most Providers won’t give you an issue by asking.
Step 2: Brief Medical History
“She’s a 78 year old female who came in on 11/28 for a COPD exacerbation. She has a PMHx of COPD, Smoking, Hypertension, Hyperlipidemia, and afib which she’s on Coumadin for”
In the inpatient setting – I always want to know why the patient was admitted. This gives some context to the patient’s situation. If a patient who came in for COPD exacerbation is complaining of a headache – that typically deems less investigation than a patient who came in for a TIA or a mechanical fall and is now having a headache.
Additionally, a brief overview of their medical history should be given with emphasis on important/related diseases. Hit the following:
- Cardiac: HTN, CAD (any stents or CABG?), Afib (anticoagulants?), CHF
- Pulmonary: COPD, asthma, Lung cancer
- Renal: AKI, CKD, ESRD (on dialysis?)
- Vascular: DVT/PE, PAD/PVD
You usually don’t need to go into any details regarding surgical history unless it is directly relevant to this admission in some way.
Step 3: Why You’re Calling (SITUATION)
“The patient is complaining of increased SOB”
This is pretty simple. Why are you calling the Provider in the first place? Usually this is due to :
- A new complaint: Chest pain, SOB, Headache
- A medication need: sleeping medication, breathing tx, pain medicine
- A change in the patient’s status: Respiratory distress, Unresponsive, confusion
- A critical lab value : elevated troponin, elevated lactic, positive blood cultures
No matter why you’re calling – simply state it and then jump into the following step – the background of the situation.
Step 4: Situation Background
“They are ordered duonebs q6h but has nothing ordered PRN”
By this point you already given the important information such as who you are, who the patient is, where they are, why they were admitted, and why you’re calling. Now you can get to the heart of the call and give context to the situation at hand.
In this instance, the patient is SOB and has COPD. Are they ordered breathing treatments and how often? No matter why you’re calling, it helps to ask these questions:
- Has this happened before and what was done? Did it help?
- Are they currently on any medication for the situation?
- What trends have been occurring (i.e. if you’re calling for high BP, how have their BPs been?)
Investigating the background of the situation can really help communicate the correct need to the Provider.
Step 5: Assessment
“The patient’s RR is 24 rpm and SPO2 is 90% on 2L NC. They’re breathing is non-labored, lung sounds show expiratory wheezes throughout”
As the nurse, you are responsible for assessing the patient first when there is a change in their status. This doesn’t mean you need to do an entire nursing assessment and report that, but get their vital signs and a do a quick physical assessment of the systems involved (I.e. If you’re calling for SOB – tell me how they are breathing and what their lungs sound like).
Please make sure you get an UPDATED set of vital signs whenever there is a change in patient status. Their vital signs from the 3-4 hours ago are not helpful to the current situation (depending on why you’re calling). That’s just good practice.
Step 6: Recommendations
“Can you please add albuterol PRN for inbetween scheduled duonebs”
Nurses are the eyes, ears, and hands of health care. They are on the front lines, are well-educated, and usually have great recommendations to help their patient. Maybe you know just what the patient needs to feel better.
Another important recommendation is asking if the Provider can evaluate the patient in-person. Sometimes it is difficult to convey your uneasiness about how a patient looks – even if their “numbers” look fine. Asking the Provider to personally evaluate the patient (if needed and indicated) is a great way to ensure the patient is in good hands.
Related Content: Tips for New Nurse Practitioners
– – – – – –
So Yes, it is SBAR, but with some important introductory steps beforehand. But what if you’re a Provider and need to know how to call consults to other Providers? I’m going to let you in on a secret – these steps are exactly what I do when I call a Provider for a consult as an NP. There really is no difference between a good nurse-to-provider report or a provider-to-provider SBAR.
As long as all the relevant information is conveyed in a concise and organized manner, you will be sure to impress the Providers you are calling, and ensure that proper communication is maintained – giving your patient the best possible care.