10 patient handoff communications tools

Shift changes, patient handoffs and referrals all require precise transfers of patient information. Many things can go wrong, however, and plenty of research has shown botched patient handoffs can be hazardous to patient safety. Here are 10 tools to assist in better patient handoff communications and avoid errors.

1. Sign-out software. Kolkin Corp, a healthcare information technology company in Newport Beach, Calif., offers free sign out software for download. The software addresses HIPAA and The Joint Commission's National Patient Safety Goal 2E, and it includes a secure physician case list, real-time patient handoff capabilities, team instant messaging and a clinical article editor. The software can be downloaded on to any computer or wireless device.

2. Safer sign-out form for patient handoffs. The Emergency Medicine Patient Safety Foundation offers a free Safer Sign Out form to improve the safety of patient handoffs at the end of a shift. The protocol involves five key components: record, review, round together, relay to the team and receive feedback.

3. Pocket card for safe clinic handoffs. A free pocket card with patient handoff tips was developed by University of Chicago Medical Center researchers and is available from the Picker Institute.

4. Medical transitions and clinical handoffs toolkit. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has released a toolkit designed to help hospitals improve medication safety. It provides step-by-step instructions on how to improve medication reconciliation, from planning — including how to get leadership support — to pilot testing, implementation and evaluation. The toolkit also includes a workbook to help users implement the toolkit.

5. Patient handover toolkit from the Royal College of Physicians. The Royal College of Physicians, based in London, has published a free, downloadable toolkit focusing on patient handovers. The toolkit provides "a framework for standardization of clinical handover practice, audit and monitoring of the process and defining accountability and responsibilities in the process.”

6. Patient handoff policy and form from Morehouse School of Medicine. The Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, as part of its graduate medical education policies and procedures, provides a downloadable patient handoff policy and sample form. The three-page policy includes a purpose statement, background information, characteristics of a high-quality handoff and handoff procedures.

7. SBAR (Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation) handoff tool. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers a free, downloadable communication tool designed to aid in safe patient hand-offs. This document also outlines AACN standards for health work environments, including skilled communications, collaboration, appropriate staffing, effective decision making, meaningful recognition and leadership.

8. AORN perioperative patient hand-off tool kit. AORN, in the "Perioperative Patient 'Hand-Off' Tool Kit" developed by AORN and the U.S. Department of Defense Patient Safety Program, provides 10 sample patient handoff tools gathered from organizations around the country. The tools include forms, posters, worksheets and a button design.

9. Improving transitions of care: Hand-off communications. From AHRQ, this tool describes factors that contribute to incomplete handoffs and recommends tactics improve handoff communication.

10. Handoff communications video: Improving transitions of care. The Joint Commission’s Center for Transforming Healthcare offers the Hand-off Communications Targeted Solutions Tool™, or TST, to organizations improving their handoff process.

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