BMJ Qual Saf 20:128-133 doi:10.1136/bmjqs.2009.034389
  • Original research

Doctors' handovers in hospitals: a literature review

  1. David Williams2
  1. 1School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  2. 2Department of Geriatric and General Medicine, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Michelle Raduma-Tomàs, School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen AB24 2UB, UK; mraduma-tomas{at}
  • Accepted 17 May 2010
  • Published Online First 5 January 2011


Aim To review studies on hospital doctors' handovers to identify the methods and main findings.

Method A literature search of electronic databases Medline and Embase (via Ovid) was conducted against a set of inclusion criteria.

Results A total of 32 papers were identified. The most common methods of studying handovers were observations and interviews, which typically focused on the sign-out (ie, handover meeting). This is just one stage of the handover process: pre- and posthandover phases were rarely examined. Although providing useful descriptive information, the studies rarely evaluated the quality of handover practices. While communication is generally recognised as the critical component, there has been little training of this skill.

Conclusion The handover literature does not fully identify where communication failures typically occur or influencing conditions, thus hampering the design of effective handover training and tools. A systematic analysis of all the stages of doctors' handovers is required.


  • Funding This work is supported by a PhD studentship from the Scottish Funding Council, (Scottish Patient Safety Research Network).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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