Introduction: Establishing continuity of care in handovers at changes of shift is a challenging endeavor that is jeopardized by time pressure and errors typically occurring during synchronous communication. Only if the outgoing and incoming persons manage to collaboratively build a common ground for the next steps of care is it possible to ensure a proper continuation. Electronic systems, in particular electronic patient record systems, are powerful providers of information but their actual use might threaten achieving a common understanding of the patient if they force clinicians to work asynchronously. In order to gain a deeper understanding of communication failures and how to overcome them, we performed a systematic review of the literature, aiming to answer the following four research questions: (1a) What are typical errors and (1b) their consequences in handovers? (2) How can they be overcome by conventional strategies and instruments? (3) electronic systems? (4) Are there any instruments to support collaborative grounding?
Methods: We searched the databases MEDLINE, CINAHL, and COCHRANE for articles on handovers in general and in combination with the terms electronic record systems and grounding that covered the time period of January 2000 to May 2012.
Results: The search led to 519 articles of which 60 were then finally included into the review. We found a sharp increase in the number of relevant studies starting with 2008. As could be documented by 20 studies that addressed communication errors, omission of detailed patient information including anticipatory guidance during handovers was the greatest problem. This deficiency could be partly overcome by structuring and systematizing the information, e.g. according to Situation, Background, Assessment and Recommendation schema (SBAR), and by employing electronic tools integrated in electronic records systems as 23 studies on conventional and 22 articles on electronic systems showed. Despite the increase in quantity and quality of the information achieved, it also became clear that there was still the unsolved problem of anticipatory guidance and presenting "the full story" of the patient. Only a small number of studies actually addressed how to establish common ground with the help of electronic tools.
Discussion: The increase in studies manifests the rise of great interest in the handover scenario. Electronic patient record systems proved to be excellent information feeders to handover tools, but their role in collaborative grounding is unclear. Concepts of how to move to joint information processing and IT-enabled social interaction have to be implemented and tested.
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