An Implementation Science Approach to Handoff Redesign in a Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit

Ann Thorac Surg. 2020 Jun;109(6):1782-1788. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2019.09.047. Epub 2019 Nov 9.


Background: The ability of handoff redesign to improve short-term outcomes is well established, yet an effective approach for achieving widespread adoption is unknown. An implementation science-based approach capable of influencing the leading indicators of widespread adoption was used to redesign handoffs from the cardiac operating room to the intensive care unit.

Methods: A transdisciplinary, unit-based team used a 12-step implementation process. The steps were divided into 4 phases: planning, engaging, executing, and evaluating. Based on unit-determined best practices, a "handoff bundle" was designed. This included team training, structured education with video illustration, and cognitive aids. Fidelity and acceptability were measured before, during, and after the handoff bundle was deployed.

Results: Redesign and implementation of the handoff process occurred over 12 months. Multiple rapid-cycle process improvements led to reductions in the handoff duration from 12.6 minutes to 10.7 minutes (P < .014). Fidelity to unit-determined handoff best practices was assessed based on a sample of the cardiac surgery population preimplantation and postimplementation. Twenty-three handoff best practices (information and tasks) demonstrated improvements compared with the preimplementation period. Provider satisfaction scores 2.5 years after implementation remained high compared with the redesign phase (87 vs. 84; P = .133).

Conclusions: The use of an implementation-based approach for handoff redesign can be effective for improving the leading indicators of successful adoption of a structured handoff process. Future quality improvement studies addressing sustainability and widespread adoption of this approach appear to be warranted, and should include the relationships to improved care coordination and reduced preventable medical errors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures*
  • Coronary Care Units / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Implementation Science*
  • Male
  • Operating Rooms / standards
  • Patient Care Team / standards*
  • Patient Handoff / organization & administration*
  • Patient Transfer / methods
  • Quality Improvement*
  • Retrospective Studies