What’s New in the Patient Safety World

March 2014

The “Reverse” Perioperative Handoff: ICU to OR



We’ve highlighted perioperative handoffs in several columns (see our Patient Safety Tip of the Week for February 11, 2014 “Another Perioperative Handoff Tool: SWITCH” and our What’s New in the Patient Safety World columns for December 2011 “AORN Perioperative Handoff Toolkit” and March 2012 “More on Perioperative Handoffs”). But those have mostly dealt with handoffs of patients coming out of the OR or PACU.


Now a new study highlights vulnerabilities in handoffs in the opposite direction: from the ICU to the operating room (Evans 2014). The authors cite several case vignettes of problems with patient care emanating from poor handoffs as patients go to the OR from the ICU. They note the inability of the patient to provide history in many cases (altered mental status, sedation, intubation, etc.) increases the need for a detailed clinician-to-clinician handoff.


They also note that most of the standardized handoff formats we’ve discussed in our many columns on handoffs (see list below) don’t work well for this “reverse” perioperative handoff. So they developed their own checklist for this type of handoff and this could be completed on paper or electronic format. This checklist includes not only those items you’d expect in a handoff (demographics, current illness, past medical history, medications, allergies, lab results, etc.) but also specifics about various lines and catheters, DNR status, hemodynamic trends, airway problems, ventilator settings, antibiotic regimens, infusions, cardiac implantable devices, etc.


The authors appropriately note that a mandatory verbal handoff still needs to take place. We’ve stressed on numerous occasions that the combination of written and verbal handoff almost always outperforms handoffs that only use either the written or verbal format. Again, we stress that performing the verbal handoff in a venue free of distractions and interruptions works best and that handoffs are “two-way” where adequate opportunity must be present for the recipient to ask questions and get clarifications.



Read about many other handoff issues (in both healthcare and other industries) in some of our previous columns:


May 15, 2007              Communication, Hearback and Other Lessons from Aviation

May 22, 2007              More on TeamSTEPPS™

August 28, 2007           Lessons Learned from Transportation Accidents

December 11, 2007     Communication…Communication…Communication

February 26, 2008       Nightmares….The Hospital at Night

September 30, 2008      Hot Topic: Handoffs

November 18, 2008      Ticket to Ride: Checklist, Form, or Decision Scorecard?

December 2008            Another Good Paper on Handoffs”.

June 30, 2009               iSoBAR: Australian Clinical Handoffs/Handovers

April 25, 2009              Interruptions, Distractions, Inattention…Oops!

April 13, 2010              Update on Handoffs

July 12, 2011               Psst! Pass it on…How a kid’s game can mold good handoffs

July 19, 2011               Communication Across Professions

November 2011            Restricted Housestaff Work Hours and Patient Handoffs

December 2011            AORN Perioperative Handoff Toolkit

February 14, 2012       Handoffs – More Than Battle of the Mnemonics

March 2012                 More on Perioperative Handoffs

June 2012                    I-PASS Results and Resources Now Available

August 2012                 New Joint Commission Tools for Improving Handoffs

August 2012                  Review of Postoperative Handoffs

January 29, 2013          A Flurry of Activity on Handoffs

December 10, 2013     Better Handoffs, Better Results

February 11, 2014       Another Perioperative Handoff Tool: SWITCH









Evans AS, Yee M-S, Hogue CW. Often Overlooked Problems with Handoffs: From the Intensive Care Unit to the Operating Room. Anesthesia & Analgesia., POST AUTHOR CORRECTIONS, 9 January 2014






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