An evidence synthesis on perioperative Handoffs: A call for balanced sociotechnical solutions

Int J Med Inform. 2023 Jun;174:105038. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2023.105038. Epub 2023 Mar 8.


Significance: Perioperative handoffs interconnect the preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative phases underlying surgical care to maintain care continuity -yet are prone to coordination and communication failures.

Objective: To synthesize evidence on factors affecting the safety and quality of perioperative handoff conduct and process.

Materials and methods: A search of PubMed, EMBASE, and CINAHL was conducted to include observational, descriptive studies of preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative handoffs published in English language, peer-reviewed journals. Data analysis was informed by the Systems Engineering Initiative for Patient Safety (SEIPS) framework describing the relationship between the work-system, work processes, and outcomes. Study quality was assessed using the Quality Scoring System.

Results: Twenty-three studies were included. Eighteen studies focused on postoperative handoffs, with one on preoperative, three on intraoperative and only one that looked at preoperative/postoperative handoffs combined. The SEIPS framework elucidated the complex inter-related factors (enablers and barriers) related to perioperative handoff safety. While some studies found that the use of standardized handoff tools and protocols and interdisciplinary teamwork were frequently-reported enablers, other studies identified the lack of structured handoff tools and protocols, poor teamwork and communication, and improper use of documentation tools were top-cited barriers affecting handoff quality. Suggestions to ensure handoff safety and quality included implementing structured handoff checklists and protocols and building interprofessional teamwork competencies for effective communication.

Discussion and conclusion: Our review highlights an urgency to develop more holistic sociotechnical solutions that can create and sustain a balance between technical innovations in tools and technologies and the non-technical interventions/training needed to improve interpersonal relations and teamwork competencies - taken together, can improve the quality and safety of perioperative handoff practice.

Keywords: Anesthesia; Handoff; Handover; Surgery; Systematic Review; Transitions in Care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Checklist
  • Communication
  • Continuity of Patient Care
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Patient Handoff*