DOI: 10.1515/dx-2023-0046 ISSN:

Scaling up a diagnostic pause at the ICU-to-ward transition: an exploration of barriers and facilitators to implementation of the ICU-PAUSE handoff tool

Ella G. Cornell, Emily Harris, Emma McCune, Elle Fukui, Patrick G. Lyons, Juan C. Rojas, Lekshmi Santhosh
  • Biochemistry (medical)
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)



The transition from the intensive care unit (ICU) to the medical ward is a high-risk period due to medical complexity, reduced patient monitoring, and diagnostic uncertainty. Standardized handoff practices reduce errors associated with transitions of care, but little work has been done to standardize the ICU to ward handoff. Further, tools that exist do not focus on preventing diagnostic error. Using Human-Centered Design methods we previously created a novel EHR-based ICU-ward handoff tool (ICU-PAUSE) that embeds a diagnostic pause at the time of transfer. This study aims to explore barriers and facilitators to implementing a diagnostic pause at the ICU-to-ward transition.


This is a multi-center qualitative study of semi-structured interviews with intensivists from ten academic medical centers. Interviews were analyzed iteratively through a grounded theory approach. The Sittig-Singh sociotechnical model was used as a unifying conceptual framework.


Across the eight domains of the model, we identified major benefits and barriers to implementation. The embedded pause to address diagnostic uncertainty was recognized as a key benefit. Participants agreed that standardization of verbal and written handoff would decrease variation in communication. The main barriers fell within the domains of workflow, institutional culture, people, and assessment.


This study represents a novel application of the Sittig-Singh model in the assessment of a handoff tool. A unique feature of ICU-PAUSE is the explicit acknowledgement of diagnostic uncertainty, a practice that has been shown to reduce medical error and prevent premature closure. Results will be used to inform future multi-site implementation efforts.

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