How good do you think your handover technique is?
Handover is an area of our clinical role which we all encounter regularly during our working day. We transfer patients between clinical environments and transfer clinical responsibilities at shift changes, all of which require handover actions.
As healthcare providers, we understand the importance of good handover communication and recognise the clear benefits of this for our patients and our delivery of optimal and safe clinical care. However, all too often, we are familiar with ineffective handover practice and witness the consequences of this on both the care delivered to patients and the outcomes they experience as a result.
This issue was highlighted to me quite a few years ago when inaccurate information passed on at a night time handover had a direct influence on my ability to provide an effective care response. A patient with hyperkalaemia which had yet to be fully assessed or treated, was handed over to the H@N team using an incorrect patient name. The correct patient could not be located resulting in a delay to the clinical response. During this time, an emergency call went out involving this patient and the error in handover communication became clear.
Sadly, the resuscitation attempt wasn’t successful and subsequent investigations confirmed that the incorrect handover was unlikely to have significantly contributed towards the outcome. The response time between handover and clinical assessment could certainly have been much better and this is what left its mark upon me. This delay could so easily have been avoided and could prove significant in another situation. Many years later, the impact of this episode remains vivid and this has taught me valuable lessons around the accuracy of handover communication which I use to enhance and improve handover practice wherever possible.
How do we do this though?
How do we improve something which is often taken for granted and which every health care facility nationwide finds challenging? Poor handover quality and a lack of standardisation have both been observed throughout UK healthcare facilities over recent years. In fact, it is acknowledged that this has led to medical errors, inappropriate investigations and prolonged in-patient admissions. This means we in NHS D&G are certainly not alone in needing to work on improving our handovers.
But does it make a difference that this is a national challenge? Well, the answer to that is probably No as well as Yes! It doesn’t matter whether we are isolated or whether every single facility in the world has issues with handover communication – we still need to address this and improve our practice.
Having said that, because this is a national and indeed international ‘hot potato’, there are many ideas, strategies and tools already developed and implemented in many hospitals which we can learn from and adapt for local use. So, yes, it does make a difference that this is such a widespread issue.
So the next question is – what can we do to improve our handovers?
The answer is – lots! We have many tools at our disposal which are widely available, of significant value and easily accessed but we often overlook the most basic of these…
We can, of course, use our verbal communication skills much more effectively to handover but this is much less effective when used in isolation. Research suggests only around 2.5% of patient data is retained through verbal-only handover methods. However, this increases to as much as 99% when a printed, structured and regularly updated handover containing all relevant clinical information is utilized. It’s really that simple!
The SBAR-R approach (Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendations, Review) provides us with a platform to structure clinical communication to ensure it is concise, relevant and accurate and is delivered and received in an effective manner.
This last bit, the review, is crucial since we have all been in the situation where we have delivered what we feel is appropriate information but this may not have been correctly received for whatever reason…
Improving our clinical handovers doesn’t just involve using an SBAR-R approach correctly though. NHS D&G have formed a multidisciplinary handover group to encourage, support and improve handover practice throughout the organisation. The group have set the aim of achieving, by August 2019, 95% of patient handovers between clinical teams and shifts across NHSDG which contain all the relevant information required.
To achieve this, the group want to develop and launch an organisational handover strategy. Additionally, the group will engage with clinical teams to encourage the formulation of protocols and procedures which are standardised across the organisation whilst remaining specific to each clinical area.
The handover group are hosting a ‘Safer Handover Week’ from 24th to 28th November involving presentations, educational drop-ins and information sessions to raise awareness of handover practice and its improvement in clinical areas. The week will culminate in a full day event on 28th November in Easterbrook Hall where the handover strategy will be launched and high profile national speakers will deliver presentations. The day will also involve presentations highlighting local initiatives, a storyboard competition and practical sessions to begin engagement with this improvement process.
Could you benefit from this valuable local event? I would suggest the answer is most definitely YES!
The handover group is looking for all staff, whatever your departmental area to come along to the Safer Handover Week sessions and learn more. We are also looking for multidisciplinary teams of ideally 3 people from each clinical area to attend the Handover Day. Become actively involved in improving handover practice across the organisation and crucially, you will have a direct, positive impact on improving handover practice in your own clinical area.
So, you’ve heard a very real story of the impact of poor handover communication upon our ability to practice effectively and you’ve seen ways in which we can improve this to deliver safer, higher quality care for our patients.
Therefore, my final question to you is more of a challenge. Can you really afford not to attend the Safer Handover Week?
For more information contact: Jean Robson, Director of Medical Education or Rebecca Henderson (x34257 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Barbara Tamburrini is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner for NHS Dumfries and Galloway