Background: The importance and complexity of handovers is well-established. Progress for intervening in the emergency department change of shift handovers may be hampered by lack of a conceptual framework. The objectives were to gain a better understanding of strategies used for change of shift handovers in an emergency care setting and to further expand current understanding and conceptualizations.
Methods: Observations, open-ended questions and interviews about handover strategies were collected at a Veteran's Health Administration Medical Center in the United States. All relevant staff in the emergency department was observed; 31 completed open-ended surveys; 10 completed in-depth interviews. The main variables of interest were strategies used for handovers at change of shift and obstacles to smooth handovers.
Results: Of 21 previously identified strategies, 8 were used consistently, 4 were never used, and 9 were used occasionally. Our data support ten additional strategies. Four agent types and 6 phases of the process were identified via grounded theory analysis. Six general themes or clusters emerged covering factors that intersect to define the degree of handover smoothness.
Conclusion: Including phases and agents in conceptualizations of handovers can help target interventions to improve patient safety. The conceptual model also clarifies unique handover considerations for the emergency department setting.