Transforming Healthcare

A clinical decision algorithm for hospital inpatients with impaired decision‐making capacity

Abstract

BACKGROUND

Impaired decision‐making capacity is a frequent complication of inpatient hospitalization, with potential negative impacts on patients and the healthcare system. Studies of clinician behavior show difficulty in diagnosis and management of capacity impairment. Appropriate management of incapacitated patients may benefit safety, medical outcomes, and healthcare expenditure.

OBJECTIVE

To create a clinical decision algorithm for identification and management of hospital inpatients with impaired capacity.

METHODS

The Department of Risk Management at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) convened a multidisciplinary workgroup to improve management of incapacitated patients. The workgroup studied institutional data and case experience, solicited mental health expertise, and performed a brief review of published tools for management of incapacitated patients. The workgroup produced a clinical decision algorithm for hospital inpatients with impaired decision‐making capacity.

RESULTS

The algorithm is explained via 3 common scenarios, and notable details include identification and management in a single visual diagram, emphasis on safety planning for a high‐risk subset of incapacitated patients, and explanation for multiple disciplines of consultation. The algorithm was disseminated to providers, workshops were conducted, and associated quality improvements were implemented. Initial feedback was positive, relating to clinical competency, decreased practice anxiety, and improved teamwork.

CONCLUSIONS

Impaired decision‐making capacity is frequent among hospitalized patients, including at SFGH. An algorithm, based on institutional review and prior published work, is presented as an example to address the common challenge of acutely ill patients with impaired decision‐making capacity. Journal of Hospital Medicine 20142014;9:527–532. © 2014 Society of Hospital Medicine

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