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3 Ways to Improve Patient Hand-Off

ESO Staff

The alarms are going off. The ED is full of chatter and noise. You’re trying to get your patient to the right room, and you only have a moment to hear from your EMS partners what happened with your patient before they arrived at the hospital.

Do you recall what medications the patient received? Or what allergies the patient might have? It’s a stressful situation, and the urgency of emergency medicine often compounds that stress level, creating a hurried process that can lead to issues with patient hand-off procedures.

What is Patient Hand-Off?

According to the Joint Commission, a patient hand-off is a transfer and acceptance of patient care responsibility achieved through effective communication. It is a real-time process of passing patient-specific information from one caregiver to another, or from one team of caregivers to another, to ensure the continuity and safety of the patient’s care.

When diligence and attentiveness to this communication falters, it can cause severe issues in patient care and outcomes, not to mention negative impacts in workload for both healthcare agencies. A patient hand-off must be thorough, efficient, and consistent.

Although multiple components can be included in a patient hand-off, at a minimum, the Joint Commission recommends including:

  1. Patient summary
  2. Illness assessment
  3. Allergy list
  4. Medication list
  5. Contingency plans
  6. Dated laboratory tests
  7. Dated vital signs
  8. Sender contact information

That’s a significant amount of data that has to be shared in often a concise amount of time in a hectic working environment. So how can hospital emergency departments improve patient hand-off procedures? Let’s take a look at three tips.

1. Review Hand-Off Procedures Annually

An essential component of a patient hand-off is good communication. Poor hand-off communication is a contributing factor to both adverse and sentinel events, and if you have had any of those in the last year, that is a good starting point to review what can be improved. Use those calls to help understand where potential communication breakdowns may have occurred.

You can also review common issues that often crop up when performing a patient hand-off. Perhaps the meeting location for patient hand-off isn’t consistent, or you don’t have a specific checklist of items to communicate. Taking an annual inventory of your current hand-off processes can help your teams identify places where they could be communicating more effectively.

2. Make Communication Structured

Once you know how all of your teams currently communicate, you should develop structured communication procedures – or update existing practices – for each of your teams based on the insights gathered during your review.

Structured communication means outlining precisely what the receiver (person receiving the patient hand-off information) and the sender (person sharing the patient hand-off information) should do an exchange. Try to include representatives from both the sender and receiver side of the coin to ensure you’re connecting everyone and generating buy-in for any new processes.

Although you probably won’t love adding another acronym into your healthcare lexicon, acronyms are useful because they help us retain critical information. Consider using SBAR or I-PASS as a way to work through your patient hand-off procedures.

3. Leverage Software to Make Communication Seamless

While verbal communication is essential when conducting a patient hand-off, there are also software tools that can make the exchange faster while still covering all of the critical information. For example, pre-hospital alerting software allows hospital and EMS teams to communicate prior to arrival by sharing patient demographics, vitals, medications/fluids administered, and even photos and videos.

By sharing this data prior to arrival, hospital teams can gain insight into what situations may be headed their way and more adequately prepare. Plus, since the information is already in the hospital ED, you won’t need to worry about remembering every single detail upon arrival. These digital records can be rich in extra patient information – photos, videos, and supporting text – that helps a hospital provider arrive at appropriate treatment faster and more accurately.

Better Communication, Better Patient Care

A digital record of the pertinent information increases overall efficiency for both pre-hospital and hospital providers in numerous ways. Medics no longer have to repeat hand-off information multiple times to different providers who are caring for the same patient. Hospital staff won’t have to “play detective” to find critical information since it is already in the ED system. Paperwork won’t get left behind, shuffled, or lost, and some software tools feature “progressive validation,” meaning a hand-off document cannot be marked complete without predefined fields being fulfilled.

While both pre-hospital and hospital staff work diligently to provide the best care for their patients, it can be the smallest details – like how efficiently the patient is handed-off at the ED – that can make a difference in the outcome for that patient. Tools like ESO Alerting are explicitly designed for improving communication between the ambulance and the ED. Improving patient hand-off means reducing adverse and sentinel events, improving teamwork, and reducing door-to-intervention time. It’s an important and valuable way to provide better care to your community and make your process more informed and efficient.

Learn more about EMS agencies and hospitals are improving patient care with ESO Alerting in this video.

Get the overview and basics of ESO Alerting software now.

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