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Patient Safety Tip of the Week

May 25, 2021

Yes, Radiologists Have Handoffs, Too



We’ve done many columns on handoffs in multiple venues and for various specialties. But we’ve never done one about radiologists. done multiple columns on radiologists and “closing the loop” to make sure significant imaging findings to not “fall through the cracks”. That process is, of course, a form of handoff. But radiologists also have several other types of handoffs.


A recent article by Burns et al. (Burns 2021) discussed those handoffs in both diagnostic and interventional radiology and offered recommended actions.


One form of handoff is from clinical staff to diagnostic radiology. This includes exam requests, special precautions (like allergies, isolation, etc.), initiation of consults, physical transfers, patient registration and identification, and technologist notes.


These clinician-to-radiology handoffs are critical, given the host of medical problems that may arise in the radiology suite. The vast majority of patient safety issues that arise in the radiology suite have little to do with the radiology procedure itself. Rather, seriously ill patients with complicated problems are sent to radiology and multiple problems can arise while the patient is in the radiology suite. See all our columns on such issues listed below. Intrahospital transport of patients is also a very vulnerable period, and the majority of such transports are to and from radiology. Our multiple columns on the “Ticket to Ride” checklist/handoff (also listed below) have stressed all the considerations when transporting such patients to and from radiology.


We cannot overemphasize the clinician’s role in providing the radiologist with adequate information as to why an imaging study is requested. In the “old days” (before CPOE) a clinician would often simply order an imaging study on the order sheet. Sometimes, then, clerical staff would simply fill out a requisition and under “reason for study” they might just write down the admitting diagnosis. Radiologists thus might get a requisition for a CT scan of the head for “pneumonia”! Fortunately, most CPOE systems and radiology information systems now require the clinician to provide more specific reasons for ordering imaging studies but even that often still just includes selecting a reason from a drop-down menu. The clinician really needs to let the radiologist what he/she is looking for or what he/she is looking to exclude. Often a verbal clinician-to-radiologist communication may be necessary and that further provides an opportunity for the radiologist to suggest the best imaging modality or protocol to use.


Another form of handoff is from radiology to clinical staff. This includes return on consults (communication of choice of appropriate imaging, protocols, follow-up recommendations, etc.). Also included would be preliminary and final reports and communication of significant or unexpected findings (see our columns on closing the loop listed below). It also includes physical transport of the patient from radiology back to the clinicians and nursing staff.


Many of the same items (in both directions) are part of handoffs for interventional radiology. But Burns and colleagues note that for these procedures pre-operative assessment, clinical notes, direct care team sign-outs, and intraprocedural discussions and decisions are also part of the clinician-to-radiologist handoff. In the reverse direction (radiologist-to-clinician) the handoff would also include pre-procedure orders, direct care team sign-outs, post-procedure notes and orders, including monitoring needs and plans for follow-up.


They then discuss adaptation of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s (IHI) reliability science framework for improving handoffs in radiology. They discuss 3 key levels of actions to improve handoffs:


Strategies targeted to the individual include training and reminders, standardization, checklists, mnemonics, and active listening skills. They caution about unclear handwritten orders and transcriptional errors and emphasize proofreading reports. Even though voice dictation software has made great strides, we still get reports with some outrageous mistakes. The authors note that transcriptional errors occur in as many as 22% of reports. And, unfortunately, we still occasionally see dictated reports appear in charts stating “signed but not read”. A focus on active listening behaviors is something that should apply to everyone in healthcare, not just radiologists. We always also stress the importance of “read back”, “hear back”, and “repeat back” to help ensure that all parties understand communications.


Checklists are important tools in handoffs. They help remind us to pay attention to details we might otherwise overlook. One checklist they describe for interventional radiology is called RADPASS (Koetser 2013). We’d again recommend use of “Ticket to Ride” style checklists for intrahospital transports (see columns listed below).


Burns et al. also introduced a new mnemonic, I-SCAN, for handoffs in radiology that is designed to incorporate important elements of I-PASS® with a tighter focus on radiologic findings. I-SCAN can be used in both diagnostic and interventional practice. I-SCAN stands for:

  I   Importance of results and identification of study, patient, sender, receiver

  S   Summary of imaging findings or interventional procedure

  C   Clinical context; any questions or additional concerns

  A   And

  N   Next steps” (further imaging, clinical workup, other recommendations)


Focus on team behaviors includes designation of time with minimal noise and interruption during handoffs “to ensure that the ideas expressed are completely and clearly reflected”. They suggest this can be achieved in a manner similar to the time-outs used in surgery. They also note that simulation practice is another useful tool.


Strategies targeted toward the organization include steps to promote a culture of safety and “Just Culture”. This encourages error reporting and learning without fear of blame or punishment. Error reporting should include not only incidents with patient harm but also near misses. And non-punitive peer learning also includes communication of “great calls” and “great catches”.


We refer you to the Burns article itself for many details of their strategies. Every radiology department or practice can learn from their work to improve handoffs and patient safety.


And, since we mentioned IPASS®, it’s worth noting that the IPASS® Patient Safety Institute just celebrated its 5-year anniversary. Of course, studies on IPASS® began over a decade ago and it is probably today the most widely used handoff format and system.


In a recent commentary on a study from Argentina (Jorro-Barón 2021) that showed IPASS® implementation in pediatric intensive care units showed significant improvement in handoff compliance but failed to reduced adverse events, Shahian (Shahian 2021) eloquently discusses the problem of linking handoffs to outcomes and events. He describes multiple studies that validate the usefulness of IPASS® and makes a plea for more urgent adoption of its principles to improve handoffs at every level of healthcare.



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

March 2014                  The “Reverse” Perioperative Handoff: ICU to OR

September 9, 2014      The Handback

December 2014            I-PASS Passes the Test

January 6, 2015            Yet Another Handoff: The Intraoperative Handoff

March 2017                 Adding Structure to Multidisciplinary Rounds

August 22, 2017         OR to ICU Handoff Success

October 2017              Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert on Handoffs

October 30, 2018        Interhospital Transfers

April 9, 2019               Handoffs for Every Occasion

November 2019          I-PASS Delivers Again

August 2020               New Twist on Resident Work Hours and Patient Safety

September 29, 2020    ISHAPED for Nursing Handoffs



See also our other columns on communicating significant results:



Some of our prior columns on intrahospital transports and the “Ticket to Ride” concept:



Some of our prior columns on patient safety issues in the radiology suite:

·       October 2020              New Warnings on Implants and MRI

·       January 2021               New MRI Risk: Face Masks






Burns J, Ciccarelli S, Mardakhaev E, et al. Handoffs in Radiology: Minimizing Communication Errors and Improving Care Transitions. JACR 2021; May 11, 2021



Koetser IC, de Vries EN, van Delden OM, et al. A checklist to improve patient safety in interventional radiology. Cardiovasc Intervent Radiol 2013; 36: 312-319



IPASS® Patient Safety Institute



Jorro-Barón F, Suarez-Anzorena I, Burgos-Pratx R, et al. Handoff improvement and adverse event reduction programme implementation in paediatric intensive care units in Argentina: a stepped-wedge trial. BMJ Quality & Safety 2021; Published Online First: 23 April 2021



Shahian D. I-PASS handover system: a decade of evidence demands action. BMJ Quality & Safety 2021; Published Online First: 23 April 2021






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