Residents’ Corner

Handoffs in Dermatology Residency

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Dermatologists are required to keep track of a high volume of items after each patient encounter, including biopsies, laboratory tests, cultures, and imaging. In residency, there is a complicating factor of transitioning care to different providers. Residents currently utilize a variety of handoff and organizational practices. Residency provides an opportunity to become familiar with different handoff and organizational practices to take forward in one’s career.

Resident Pearl

  • For dermatology residents, ensuring organized handoff and follow-up practices is essential. Residency provides an opportunity to become familiar with different practices to take forward in one’s career.



As a dermatologist, there are innumerable items to track after each patient encounter, such as results from biopsies, laboratory tests, cultures, and imaging, as well as ensuring follow-up with providers in other specialties. In residency, there is the complicating factor of switching rotations and therefore transitioning care to different providers (Figure). Ensuring organized handoff practices is especially important in residency. In a study of malpractice claims involving residents, handoff problems were a notable contributing factor in 19% of malpractice cases involving residents vs 13% of cases involving attending physicians.1 There still is a high percentage of malpractice cases involving handoff problems among attending physicians, highlighting the fact that these issues persist beyond residency.

In residency, patient handoff may sometimes feel like a relay race. Optimal organizational and handoff practices can provide smooth transitions in patient care. ©Sophie A. Greenberg, MD.

This article will review a variety of handoff and organizational practices that dermatology residents currently use, discuss the evidence behind best practices, and highlight additional considerations relevant when selecting organizational tools.

Varied Practices

Based on personal discussions with residents from 7 dermatology residency programs across the country, there is marked variability in both the frequency of handoffs and organizational methods utilized. Two major factors that dictate these practices are the structure of the residency program and electronic health record (EHR) capacities.

Program structure and allocation of resident responsibilities affect the frequency of handoffs in the outpatient dermatology residency setting. In some programs, residents are responsible for all pending studies for patients they have seen, even after switching clinical sites. In other programs, residents sign out patients, including pending test results, when transitioning from one clinical rotation to another. The frequency of these handoffs varies, ranging from every few weeks to every 4 months.

Many dermatology residents report utilizing features in the EHR to organize outstanding tasks and results, obviating the need for additional documentation. Some EHRs have the capacity to assign proxies, which allows for a seamless transition to another provider. When the EHR lacks these capabilities, organization of outstanding tasks relies more heavily on supplemental documentation. Residents noted using spreadsheets, typed documents, electronic applications designed to organize handoffs outside of the EHR, and handwritten notes.

There is room for formal education on the best handoff and organizational practices in dermatology residency. A study of anesthesiology residents at a major academic institution suggested that education regarding sign-out practices is most effective when it is multimodal, using both formal and informal methods.2 Based on my discussions with other dermatology residents, these practices generally are informally learned; often, dermatology residents did not realize that organization practices varied so widely at other institutions.


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