Background Cross-unit handovers transfer responsibility for the patient among healthcare teams in different clinical units, with missed information, potentially placing patients at risk for adverse events.
Objectives We analysed the communications between high-acuity and low-acuity units, their content and social context, and we explored whether common conceptual ground reduced potential threats to patient safety posed by current handover practices.
Methods We monitored the communication of five content items using handover probes for 22 patient transitions of care between high-acuity ‘sender units’ and low-acuity ‘recipient units’. Data were analysed and discussed in focus groups with healthcare professionals to acquire insights into the characteristics of the common conceptual ground.
Results High-acuity and low-acuity units agreed about the presence of alert signs in the discharge form in 40% of the cases. The focus groups identified prehandover practices, particularly for anticipatory guidance that relied extensively on verbal phone interactions that commonly did not involve all members of the healthcare team, particularly nursing. Accessibility of information in the medical records reported by the recipient units was significantly lower than reported by sender units. Common ground to enable interpretation of the complete handover content items existed only among selected members of the healthcare team.
Conclusions The limited common ground reduced the likelihood of correct interpretation of important handover information, which may contribute to adverse events. Collaborative design and use of a shared set of handover content items may assist in creating common ground to enable clinical teams to communicate effectively to help increase the reliability and safety of cross-unit handovers.
- Human factors
- Patient safety
- Risk management
- Transitions in care
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