Clinical question: Does the implementation of a handoff program lead to improved patient safety?
Background: Communication failure at the time of handoff of patient care from one resident to another is a significant cause of medical errors. Programs to improve the quality of handoffs have been created to reduce such errors, but few have been rigorously evaluated.
Study design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: Inpatient units at nine pediatric residency programs in the United States and Canada.
Synopsis: The study team evaluated the impact of the I-PASS Handoff Bundle (illness severity, patient summary, action items, situation awareness and contingency planning, and synthesis by receiver) from January 2011 through May 2013. Compared with the pre-intervention period, there was a 23% reduction in medical errors in the post-intervention period (24.5 vs. 18.8 per 100 admissions; P<0.001), a 30% reduction in preventable adverse events (4.7 vs. 3.3 events per 100 admissions; P<0.001), and a significant increase in the inclusion of all key elements of handoff communication. There were no significant changes in duration of handoffs or resident workflow.
Given the emphasis placed on teaching reliable communication to trainees, many residency programs are developing curricula on proper handoff practices. Although the pre-post nature of this study prevents a causal relationship from being established, the outcomes provide evidence in support of this particular handoff improvement program.
Bottom line: The I-PASS Handoff Bundle might reduce preventable adverse events and medical errors without significant impact on handoff duration or resident workflow.
Citation: Starmer AJ, Spector ND, Srivastava R, et al. Changes in medical errors after implementation of a handoff program. N Engl J Med. 2014;371(19):1803-1812.