Improving the Quality of Handoffs in Patient Care Between Critical Care Providers in the Intensive Care Unit

Am J Med Qual. 2017 Jul/Aug;32(4):376-383. doi: 10.1177/1062860616654758. Epub 2016 Jun 20.


With the ever-increasing adoption of shift models for intensive care unit (ICU) staffing, improving shift-to-shift handoffs represents an important step in reducing medical errors. The authors developed an electronic handoff tool integrated within the existing electronic medical record to improve handoffs in an adult ICU. First, stakeholder (staff intensivists, fellows, and nurse practitioners/physician assistants) input was sought to define what elements they perceived as being essential to a quality handoff. The principal outcome measure of handoff accuracy was the concordance between data transmitted by the outgoing team and data received by the incoming team (termed as agreement). Based on stakeholder input, the authors developed the handoff tool and provided regular education on its use. Handoffs were observed before and after implementation of the tool. There was an increase in the level of agreement for tasks and other important data points handed off without an increase in the time required to complete the handoff.

Keywords: critical illness; intensive care unit; patient care handoffs; quality improvement.

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care / organization & administration*
  • Critical Care / standards
  • Electronic Health Records / organization & administration*
  • Electronic Health Records / standards
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration*
  • Intensive Care Units / standards
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control
  • Patient Handoff / standards*
  • Personnel, Hospital
  • Quality Improvement / organization & administration*