One of our most frequent topics has been handoffs in healthcare or other industries (see the full list of prior columns at the end of today’s column). Communication breakdowns are involved in over 75% of serious patient adverse events and transitions of care are particularly vulnerable to such communication breakdowns. Hence, optimal performance of handoffs is of utmost importance in preventing errors at such transitions.
The Joint Commission recently published a Sentinel Even Alert on faulty handoffs (TJC 2017). Much of the content was based upon The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare’s Hand-off Communications Project. That project involved 10 hospitals that used the Robust Process Improvement® (RPI®) and its Targeted Solutions Tool® (TST®) for Hand-off Communications to identity the root causes of and solutions to the problem of inadequate hand-offs. The Sentinel Event Alert illustrates how one hospital reduced its ineffective hand-offs by almost 60 percent while reducing the number of adverse events related to hand-off communication, using the TST® tool. It also discusses the I-PASS program, which we’ve written about extensively.
The Sentinel Even Alert emphasizes the need for leadership to prioritize a systemic approach to handoffs and provide appropriate resources for such. It recommends that content of handoffs be standardized and standardized tools (forms, templates, checklists, protocols, mnemonics, etc.) should be used. It notes that mnemonics (like I-PASS) may be helpful in guiding handoffs but the training and culture are critical to effective handoffs. Content should be in both verbal and written form and handoffs preferably should be face-to-face, with ample time and opportunities to ask questions. Locations for conducting handoffs should be free from interruptions, and include multidisciplinary team members and the patient and family, as appropriate. It lists various items and parameters that should be part of handoffs. While it stresses the face-to-face communication, it does recognize that the electronic medical record and other technologies may be used to enhance the handoff process.
Importance should be placed on training in conducting handoffs, using tools like real-time observation and performance feedback, role-playing and simulation, use of champions and coaches, and independent learning.
It also stresses that you need to have some way of measuring and monitoring the success of handoffs and the impact on adverse events.
The Sentinel Event Alert is well referenced and has good recommendations. While it emphasizes standardizing content and tools, we don’t think they are suggesting that the same content and tools be used for all handoffs across the organization. In our many columns listed below we have emphasized that the content and format of handoffs may differ based upon the type of transition of care occurring.
Read about many other handoff issues (in both healthcare and other industries) in some of our previous columns:
May 15, 2007 “ ”
May 22, 2007 “ ”
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 “ ”
November 18, 2008 “ ”
December 2008 “Another Good Paper on Handoffs”.
June 30, 2009 “”
April 25, 2009 “ ”
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 “”
August 22, 2017 “”
TJC (The Joint Commission). Inadequate hand-off communication. Sentinel Event Alert 2017; 58: 1-6 September 12, 2017