Making Patient Handoffs Safer

Nurse talking to patient

Patient handoffs occur when one shift of nurses or doctors hand a patient over to the next shift during the course of the day. The same occurs when patients are transferred from one department in a hospital to another such as from an emergency department to an operating wing to a postoperative care unit. Patient handoffs represent an important and necessary component of patient care in the hospital.

During the course of a patient handoff, information about the patient is exchanged between the outgoing nurses and doctors and the incoming nurses and doctors in order that the incoming nurses and doctors will know the patient’s status, their current care, and what the patient needs down the road. The safety of patient handoffs has taken new importance in recent months during the COVID-19 pandemic. As hospitals overflow with patients, hospital and medical professionals must place a renewed focus on staff and department communications to continue to minimize the risks of errors and harm that can arise from patient handoffs.

How COVID Has Changed Communication and Patient Care

Unfortunately, the need to reduce face-to-face contact between care providers and patients due to COVID has fostered conditions in which communication regarding patient care and handoffs of patients often falls by the wayside.

educed in-person contact can often mean less of a visible reminder that ensures that all caregivers and staff are kept fully informed regarding each patient’s care. This can lead to situations where critical information falls through the cracks.

Hospital Mistakes and Miscommunication

Communication is the critical component of any patient handoff. Most hospital errors arise from a breakdown in communication during a patient handoff. Miscommunication during patient handoffs can lead to errors like medication errors, misdiagnosis/delayed diagnosis, delayed treatment, surgical errors, or hospital-acquired infections. Ultimately, those errors lead to patient injuries.

Those errors can occur when oncoming shifts of care providers are not fully advised on a patient’s present condition or the current status of their medication regimen, or when outgoing care providers fail to inform a patient’s treating physicians about treatment decisions already made, leading to different providers issuing contradictory or contraindicated medical instructions for a patient.

How to Make Patient Handoffs Safer

Tips for helping to improve the safety of patient handoffs both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic crisis include:

  • Addressing advanced care planning with patients and families
  • Balancing the benefits and risks of transferring patients, including considering the patient’s current status and medical stability, the patient’s goals for treatment, and the patient’s likely or possible prognoses
  • Executing warm handoffs between shifts and departments (face to face handoffs), ensuring that staff and providers communicate with one another before any handoff occurs and before any medical decisions are made that will input or attention by oncoming shifts or other departments
  • Utilizing technological solutions, including mobile workstations and video-conferencing software, to ensure that all care providers and decision-makers are kept in the loop at all times, even when staff must limit in-person access with the patient or between themselves
  • Implementing checklist protocols to foster consistency in communication for patient handoffs

Talk to a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you or someone you love have suffered injury or harm due to hospital errors that may have been caused by miscommunication among providers and hospital staff, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your injuries and losses. We are here for you.

Schedule your free in-person or remote virtual consultation with the experienced medical malpractice legal team at Olson Personal Injury Lawyers today. We will listen to you, discuss your legal rights and help you weigh your options.

Author: Sean Olson

Sean Olson is much more than just a personal injury lawyer. Sean is an advocate who helps those who are injured navigate our complex legal system. And he is a voice for those who are injured and cannot speak for themselves.