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I have completed bits of my EM training from India. Currently I am boarded with credentials from Christian Medical College, Vellore and also from the prestigious Royal College of Emergency Medicine, UK.  I am currently working in London as an A&E doctor, trying to appreciate the differences in the practise and culture of Emergency Medicine across different healthcare systems. I have always been an avid FOAMed supporter because FOAMed played an indispensable role during the days of my initial training. Through this blog, I aspire to disseminate knowledge and stay up to date with the EM literature. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

CLINICAL HANDOVER: from “Me” to “You”

In a busy emergency department, there are days when all the beds are occupied by patients and your emergency gates are flooded with incoming patients; your duty is about to start and the scenario is overwhelming. You are anxious to know every essential detail of each patient before you take over the responsibility. Clinical handovers are an important responsibility of every Emergency Physician. Handovers can range from ED physician to ED physician during shift change, ambulance doctor to ED physician, ED physician to an intensivist during patient transfer. ED physician should be well versed with giving as well as receiving a thorough, concise, handover for benefit of patient, hospital and self.
A clinical handover is defined as ‘the transfer of professional responsibility and accountability for some or all aspects of care for a patient, or group of patients, to another person or professional group on a temporary or permanent basis.’ (1)
A good handover forms essence for continuity of patient care. It involves effective communication, clinical documentation, transfer and referral notes and discharge documentation. In India, clinical handover is one of the least researched topics; more so, there is no defined pattern or checklist that is used by doctors while giving handover.

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death after heart diseases and cancer in the USA. Communication errors form major cause of up to 70% of sentinel events, out of which 62% major factor was change in shift. There are multiple parts of a handover where important information may be dropped or not conveyed. This can affect patient care, length of stay, and department flow.
A survey carried out by Kessler et al among 41% of ACGME accredited EM residency program; 56.6% of EM physicians responded that they do not use standardized handoff.\

In the USA, handovers are in the form of sign-outs. The format used for sign outs could be verbal, written or digital. One of the sign-out strategies used is called ANTICipate. It consisted of

  • Administrative data (Name, age, sex, bed no, admission status);
  • New Information (chief complaints, brief history, differentials, medications, allergies, current baseline status, recent significant events/procedures);
  • Tasks (what needs to be done, if-then approach);
  • Illness (How sick is the patient/ triage category);
  • Contingency plan (what may go wrong/ what to do about it, what has/has not worked before, difficult family/ psychosocial situation)

The Joint Commission in 2006 introduced a standardized approach to handover: the SBAR method (3). The SBAR approach consists of situation, background, assessment and recommendation. Only the most relevant data is included and put together in SBAR frame and presented effectively to the incoming team who is also well versed with the approach. Then, specific questions may be asked to clarify and confirm the handover. SBAR is generalized and can be used for all kinds of patients. This should be followed by ‘read back’ or ‘repeat back’. In ‘read back’, the receiving team repeats the important information, so there is a closed loop communication.


  • Situation: Mr. Kapoor has fever with chills and petechial rash.
  • Background: His symptoms started 3 days back. His temperature is 102, heart rate of 100/min and BP 130/80. He has no co-morbidities. His platelet count is 1lakh. Now, he has generalized weakness.
  • Assessment: My assessment of the situation is he has acute febrile illness most likely dengue.
  • Recommendation: I recommend we hydrate him well, bring down his fever, trace the Dengue report and keep watch on his platelet count and admit him on floors under Dr. ABC.

A specific handover technique for trauma patients is IMIST-AMBO. IMIST-AMBO stands for

  • Identification/Introduction,
  • Mechanism of Injury/Medical complaint,
  • Injuries/Information related to the complaint,
  • Signs and Symptoms,
  • Treatment given/Trends noted,
  • Allergies,
  • Medications,
  • Background history and
  • Other information.

There must be a crossover of two shifts. Adequate dedicated time must be allowed for handover. Handover must be given as a team, consisting of team leader, junior doctors and nursing staff, so everyone is on same page and clarifications can be done, if needed.

Sufficient and relevant information should be exchanged to ensure patient safety so that the senior doctors have knowledge of the triage category 1 and 2 patients; junior doctors of the team are adequately briefed on concerns from previous shifts and tasks not yet completed are clearly understood by the incoming team.

It decreases morbidity and mortality of patients because of greater continuity of care. Patients don’t like repeating the history again and again to each health care provider. A good handover prevents repetition, improves patient satisfaction. Patient’s perception of professionalism is reaffirmed and improved.

Professional protection: Clear and accountable communication can protect against wrongful attribution of responsibility for errors that occur.

Reduction of stress: feeling informed and having up to date information enables doctors to feel more confident in patient’s care. Doctors have found that handover can be a useful experience that gives them the opportunity to involve appropriate specialties early, for example intensive care. There is ability to discuss cases with other specialties in an open environment.

Educational: handover provides development and practice of communication skills and a well-led handover session provides a useful setting for clinical education

Job satisfaction: providing the best possible quality of care is highly rewarding and is fundamental to a doctor’s sense of job satisfaction

In a busy ED, there could be lots of disturbances, interruptions and distractions that can prevent a good handover. Handover should have dedicated time except for life-threatening emergencies.

Not everybody is well versed with a common handover scheme. Each hospital should develop their own handover checklist and have role plays to make a conscious effort in reducing errors and delays.

Handover should be carried out as team instead of hierarchical handovers (ie junior doctors to junior doctors and so on). Team debriefing helps in better patient care, prevents delays and minimizes errors. It also makes handovers- a teaching tool.

Take Home Points  
  • Use a checklist like SBAR for transferring information from one team to other along with ‘read back’.
  • Handovers as team can have better continuity of care.
  • Simulate handover technique to become well versed at it.  
  • Use the dedicated handover time as a teaching tool.

  1. National Patient Safety Agency, London. As cited in Safe Handover: safe patients. British Medical Association, London, pg 7.
  2. Fassett, R G & Bollipo, S J. Morning report: an Australian experience. Medical Journal of Australia 2006; 184: 159-161.
  3. Cohen MD, Hilligoss PB. The published literature on handoffs in hospitals: deficiencies identified in an extensive review. Qual Saf Health Care 2010;19:493–7
  4. Sujan, Mark, et al. "Clinical handover within the emergency care pathway and the potential risks of clinical handover failure (ECHO): primary research." (2014).
  5. Kessler C, Shakeel F, Hern HG, Jones JS, Comes J, Kulstad C, Gallahue FA, Burns BD, Knapp BJ, Gang M, Davenport M. An algorithm for transition of care in the emergency department. Academic emergency medicine: official journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. 2013 Jun;20(6):605.
  6. Kessler C, Shakeel F, Hern HG, Jones JS, Comes J, Kulstad C, Gallahue FA, Burns BD, Knapp BJ, Gang M, Davenport M. A survey of handoff practices in emergency medicine. American Journal of Medical Quality. 2014 Sep 1;29(5):408-14.
  7. Hern H, Gallahue FE, Burns BD, Druck J, Jones J, Kessler C, Knapp B, Williams S. Handoff Practices in Emergency Medicine: Are We Making Progress?. Academic Emergency Medicine. 2016 Jan 1.
  8. Stokowski LA. Who Believes That Medical Error Is the Third Leading Cause of Hospital Deaths?. Medscape, May. 2016 May 26;26.
  9. WHO Collaborating Centre for Patient Safety Solutions. Communication during patient hand-overs. Patient Safety Solutions. 2007; 1:solution 3.
  10. Committee on the Quality of Health Care in America, Institute of Medicine. Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2004:45.
  11. Committee on the Quality of Health Care in America, Institute of Medicine. To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2000:36.

Nikhil N. Tambe - @nikhil16mar

Emergency Medicine Resident (PGY-2)
Masters in Emergency Medicine (GWU)
Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai
Instructor (American Heart Association)
Lifesupporters Institute of Health Sciences, Mumbai

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