The patient handoff process is a sensitive period, rife with potential error. According to the Joint Commission, most serious medical errors involve miscommunication during patient handoffs between providers and care settings.¹ Whether transitioning care to another shift, team, or organization, communication gaps leave patients at risk.

Examples of common healthcare communication gaps:

  • A specialist is not notified that their patient has arrived on the floor, resulting in dangerous wait times.
  • Medication changes are not communicated to a new care provider, causing the patient to revert to old dosages.
  • A patient is referred to a nursing facility that is not equipped to facilitate their rehabilitative care, resulting in poor postoperative recovery.

Healthcare organizations can reduce risks by combining real-time clinical communication with in-depth patient data and trends. Below are four strategies for streamlining patient handoffs to close healthcare communication gaps and ensure excellence during care transitions.

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How Better Communication Helps Transfer Patients 2x as Fast

1. Know Your Patient Audience

Understanding your patient audience requires a two-pronged approach. First, health systems would do well to borrow methodology from other service industries and assess the general personas of their patients. Psychographics – a term commonly used in market research – can be applied to understanding your patient population’s attitudes, aspirations, and personalities and how they best receive communications.

  • Engaged patients who are eager and want to get better respond to communications beyond plain facts. Instead of simply telling them that their cholesterol level is normal, help them stay on track by telling them why it is important to monitor.
  • Patients inclined towards openness, who are able and willing to listen, will try to absorb all the information they can. These patients need a clear treatment plan bolstered by the most accurate information because they will do their own research after leaving your presence.
  • Patients who may be naturally distrustful, skeptical, or suspicious of motives need encouragement to hear your message. Physicians would be wise to delay messages that could be viewed as negative until trust and understanding are in place. 
  • Extroverted patients respond best when they are the center of their own story. Craft your message around real examples from the patient’s history or examples the patient can apply to themselves to help them acknowledge the steps they need to take to move forward. 
  • Agreeable patients are eager to follow through with their care but can also be influenced by others. They need to receive clear and detailed information to support their treatment plan and will need encouragement to stay the course.

Once you have a general assessment of your patients, the next step will be to dig into their unique data sets. By looking for signals, such as a patient always requesting ice, nurses can more accurately route requests to support staff and free up their time for higher-value tasks. Care teams can also leverage these trends to facilitate smoother handoffs and build positive patient relationships by anticipating their needs and increasing their overall satisfaction.

2. Identify Gaps in Your Handoff Scenarios

The five most vulnerable patient handoff scenarios across the industry are:

  • Emergency Department Throughput
  • Acute-Care to Home
  • Acute-Care to Post-Acute Care
  • In-Hospital Acuity Transfers
  • Shift Changes

Your handoff scenarios will be unique to your organization and business processes. Work with your care teams to assess the types of handoffs taking place, identify who is involved, and pinpoint the obstacles causing patient care to slip. 

Once you have a complete picture, you can establish best practices to meet your patient, provider, and employee needs and leverage clinical collaboration technology to improve efficiency and safety. Here are a few examples of common pain points and technology-driven solutions.

  • If patients are experiencing long wait times for consults in the emergency department, a clinical collaboration platform can enable one-touch messaging to on-call specialists, saving time previously wasted searching for paper schedules or leaving messages with an operator. 
  • Is information frequently left out during transitions between care providers? Capabilities like group messaging and automated alerts can notify primary care physicians of transfers and discharges in real time to support better care coordination and communication.

Creating a seamless process for patient handoffs will help you reduce communication barriers, improve care transitions and produce a positive patient experience.

3. Communicate in Real-Time with Context

When care team members don’t have access to the most current patient information, patients receive conflicting instructions, and the care plan suffers. Patients can end up waiting days to follow up with their primary care physician or inadvertently take an old medication dosage. A recent study found that twenty-five to sixty-five percent of patients have a poor understanding of their discharge instructions, and almost half receive incomplete instructions.²

The remedy for this is ensuring best practices are in place to support better patient handoffs where the patient and the incoming care provider receive real-time communication reinforced by up-to-date patient information.

  • Case notes should include treatment and service, condition, alarms and alert history, and any recent or anticipated changes. 
  • Even non-medically relevant information (such as patient preferences and anxieties) should be included and communicated during handoffs.

Opt for a clinical collaboration platform that supports robust record-keeping, analytics, and integrates with the EHR. Staff on both sides of the care continuum should also be thoroughly recording and reviewing relevant communication and case histories for accuracy to ensure continuity of care.

4. Train Your Staff on the New Rules of Communication

Care providers understand that how they communicate with patients matters. Body language, word choice, context, and rapport play a role in how a patient internalizes and acts upon a message.  With the rapid evolution of digital communication, physicians, nurses, and support staff must also be aware of the new rules of communication and how they come into play in healthcare. 

Your communication will probably be noted by others outside of your immediate recipient. 

With cell phones, everyone has a personal computer in their pocket. Make sure your message is clear, presented with context, and backed by accurate data because your communication can easily be shared with others in the patient’s immediate network and beyond.

Outside influences and information are in play.  

With social media, online search engines, and 24-hour news cycles – for better or worse – every patient who walks through your doors will bring views and perspectives they have formed from participating in our digital world. You may need to spend more time building trust and rapport before a patient can hear a message that doesn’t align with their viewpoint.

Physicians and care providers who keep these new rules in mind will protect themselves from having their messages misconstrued and better serve their patients in making informed healthcare decisions.

How Clinical Collaboration Technology Improves Patient Handoffs

Physicians and nurses are getting crushed under a system that prioritizes data entry over patient care. TigerConnect integrations help reverse this trend by merging only the most critical, relevant, and timely system data – EHR, nurse call, physiological monitors, labs, and imaging – within a single, mobile-friendly clinical communications app. Physicians can stop wasting time in the EHR and focus on delivering better outcomes for patients.

  • Reduce alarm fatigue by filtering out the noise. TigerConnect Alarm Management & Event Notification interfaces with nurse call systems, physiological monitors, EHR/critical lab results, smart beds, and more. Context-rich notifications are routed to the appropriate caregiver and non-actionable alarms are filtered out, ensuring caregivers are only focused on relevant information.
  • Make critical data instantly accessible with key integrations. The TigerConnect API integrates with critical hospital systems to break down information silos and push patient data to the smartphone from a wide range of systems, including the EHR and nurse call systems. Securely move notifications, images, lab results, and other vital data from the system into the smartphone at lightspeed.
  • Unify your entire health system on one cloud-based communication platform. The TigerConnect Clinical Collaboration platform enables healthcare organizations to evolve beyond asynchronous texting. Expand beyond the four walls of a single facility by leveraging a seamless platform for team communication and care coordination – across the hall or the state. Providers will be able to quickly locate on-call team members and communicate in real-time, reducing patient wait times and delays in care. Advanced communication tools ensure critical patient information is safely delivered from one care setting to the next. 

When effective clinical communication is paired with on-demand, patient-centered data, patients, and providers benefit from smoother handoffs. Implementing the strategies outlined above reduces administrative burdens and closes dangerous communication gaps.

Ready to take a deeper dive into how your organization can leverage clinical communication platforms to improve your patient handoffs? Download our ebook “The 5 Most Vulnerable Patient Handoff Scenarios.”


¹“Sentinel Event: Inadequate Hand-off Communication, Issue 58.” The Joint Commission, 17 Sept. 2017.

² Sheikh, Hasan, et al. “Patient understanding of discharge instructions in the emergency department: do different patients need different approaches?.” International journal of emergency medicine vol. 11,1 5. 8 Feb. 2018, doi:10.1186/s12245-018-0164-0

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