How to Improve Hand Off Communication In Nursing for Better Patient Handoffs

How to Improve Hand Off Communication In Nursing for Better Patient Handoffs

In the fast-paced environment of modern healthcare, good hospital communication is critical to patient outcomes and quality of care. Nowhere is this more evident than when handing over a case to another shift, team, or organization. An effective patient handoff process will help you avoid communication barriers, improve care transitions, create a better patient experience, and ensure excellent continuity of care, throughout the supply chain.

There are plenty of ways to enhance the handoff communications process — effective technology, established procedures, staff training, good protocols, and more. This will help you avoid medical errors, improve patient satisfaction, and create greater collaboration throughout your healthcare team.

Let’s dig into how you can enhance your healthcare organization’s clinical patient handoffs.

Identify the Various Types of Handoffs Your Organization Makes, and the Requirements for Each One

Every type of handoff will be slightly different. Handoffs between nurse shifts on a critical care ward will differ significantly from mental health nursing, or handoffs between surgical and recovery staff. Identify the various types of handoffs your organization makes regularly — between shifts, teams, areas, disciplines, and providers. Speak to your staff to ensure you properly understand the scope of handoffs and who is involved in each one.

Establish Best Practices Around Patient Handoffs

Before creating handoff protocols, you will want to establish best practice. Look at clinical guidelines, interview staff, and explore successful handoff techniques used elsewhere in your, or other healthcare providers. Establish exactly what types of information that people making and receiving the handoff need, and the best way to provide that information.

Create and Communicate Handoff Protocols that Meet Patient, Provider, and Employee Needs

Create protocols, processes, and guidelines for every type of handoff your organization makes. Get feedback from your employees and refine your handoff processes to balance efficiency and patient care. Make sure that all of your protocols, processes, and guidelines are clearly communicated — make them easily accessible and build them into your hospital communications technology so they are easy to review and use.

Create Handoff Templates and Checklists for Each Kind of Handoff

Don’t expect staff just to rely on their memory and expertise when they’re making handoffs. Create checklists and templates to guide them through the handoff process. Encourage staff to refer to these lists when they’re making handoffs so nothing gets missed.

Train Your Staff in Making Effective Handoffs

Make sure your staff has the right communications skills to carry out their handoffs. Build handoff training into your onboarding process and provide initial and refresher training as needed. Create online resources that your staff can access to get the information they need.

Invest in Collaboration and Communication Technology

Patient Handoffs become much easier if you have an effective Clinical Communication and Collaboration (CC&C) platform. These platforms will integrate with your other systems, including Electronic Health Records (EHR) and they are a great way to empower hospital communication between teams. This technology allows staff to easily record details about patients, communicate with team members, get diagnostics and results, and record treatment plans.

Create Good Habits for Recording Information about Patients and Cases

Encourage your staff to record all necessary patient details, histories, diagnostics, results, and treatment in your CC&C platform. This ensures continuity of care, so even after a handoff, the receiving staff can look at patient records to get the most up-to-date information. Ensure that the staff who are handing off their patients review the relevant communication and case histories for accuracy.

Give Staff Adequate Time to Complete Patient Handoffs

One of the main issues with handoffs is staff not having enough time to complete them. Make sure there is enough overlap between shifts and areas to allow proper handoff communications for every case.

Ensure Staff Receiving Patient Handoffs Review Hospital Communications Histories

Just as the staff making the handoff need to review case histories for accuracy, you want the staff receiving the handoff to do the same. Encourage them to read through case notes for each patient coming into their care, so they have the latest information.

Continually Measure, Analyze, and Improve Your Handoff Processes

No matter how good your handoff process is at the moment, it’s possible it could be better. Create a mindset of continual improvement and use metrics to identify any possible issues in your handoff process. Analyze what may be causing problems, put improvements in place, and measure again to understand how things have changed.

There you have it — a simple guide to making your clinical handoffs as effective as possible. Go through this process with each area and team, and you’ll be able to streamline your communications and handoff process without compromising patient care. Learn more on how you can close dangerous communication gaps by downloading your free eBook on “The 5 Most Vulnerable Patient Handoff Scenarios”

5 Most Dangerous Patient Handoff Gaps

Clinical Communication Guide: The 5 Most Vulnerable Patient Handoff Scenarios eBook


Dr. Cheryl McKay is a healthcare leader with over 20 years of executive experience in directing quality care for large academic facilities, smaller multi-site inpatient and outpatient centers, as well as research, quality, education, and clinical divisions. As a critical care clinical specialist, nurse executive, and researcher, she has a broad range of experience in helping clients successfully manage technology implementation and advancement, product development, marketing, and sales.

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