Leading clinical handover improvement: a change strategy to implement best practices in the acute care setting

J Patient Saf. 2011 Mar;7(1):11-8. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0b013e31820c98a8.


Objective: Many contemporary acute care facilities lack safe and effective clinical handover practices resulting in patient transitions that are vulnerable to discontinuities in care, medical errors, and adverse patient safety events. This article is intended to supplement existing handover improvement literature by providing practical guidance for leaders and managers who are seeking to improve the safety and the effectiveness of clinical handovers in the acute care setting.

Methods: A 4-stage change model has been applied to guide the application of strategies for handover improvement. Change management and quality improvement principles, as well as concepts drawn from safety science and high-reliability organizations, were applied to inform strategies.

Results: A model for handover improvement respecting handover complexity is presented. Strategies targeted to stages of change include the following: 1. Enhancing awareness of handover problems and opportunities with the support of strategic directions, accountability, end user involvement, and problem complexity recognition. 2. Identifying solutions by applying and adapting best practices in local contexts. 3. Implementing locally adapted best practices supported by communication, documentation, and training. 4. Institutionalizing practice changes through integration, monitoring, and active dissemination. Finally, continued evaluation at every stage is essential.

Conclusions: Although gaps in handover process and function knowledge remain, efforts to improve handover safety and effectiveness are still possible. Continued evaluation is critical in building this understanding and to ensure that practice changes lead to improvements in patient safety, organizational effectiveness, and patient and provider satisfaction. Through handover knowledge building, fundamental changes in handover policies and practices may be possible.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Awareness
  • Benchmarking / methods*
  • Benchmarking / standards
  • Canada
  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Models, Organizational
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Patient Care / standards*
  • Problem Solving
  • Quality of Health Care / standards
  • Safety / standards*