Clinical question: In a pediatric inpatient setting, is the use of a handoff program associated with improved patient safety measures and handoff quality?
Background: Sentinel events related to errors in communication are a significant patient safety dilemma and an impetus for ongoing efforts to improve handoffs in postgraduate medical education. Various strategies to be incorporated into the handoff process have been suggested in the literature, but research is limited with regard to the relationship between handoffs and patient safety.
Study design: Prospective, pre-post study.
Setting: Academic, pediatric hospital in an urban setting.
Synopsis: Overall, 1,255 patient admissions (642 pre-/613 post-handoff intervention) were evaluated on two inpatient units during the periods of July 2009-September 2009 (pre-intervention) and November 2009-January 2010 (post-intervention). The intervention was a handoff “bundle” consisting of a standardized communication and handoff training session, a verbal mnemonic to standardize handoffs, and a new unified resident-intern handoff structure in a private, quiet setting. A computerized handoff tool was also added in one unit. Primary outcomes were a comparison of the rate of medical errors per 100 admissions and rates of preventable adverse events before and after the intervention.
Implementation of the bundle resulted in a significant decrease in medical errors (18.3 from 33.8 per 100 admissions, P<0.001) and preventable adverse events (1.5 from 3.3 per 100 admissions, P=0.04). Secondary outcomes included reductions in omissions of key data in the written handoff (even greater in the group using the computerized tool) and increased percentage of time spent in direct patient care, with no change in handoff duration. Additionally, handoffs were more likely to occur in a quiet, private location.
Limitations included the potential for confounding in a pre-post intervention design, the difficulty in ascertaining the value of the individual components of the bundle, and the potential lack of generalizability.
Bottom line: In a pediatric hospital setting, a multifaceted handoff bundle is associated with improved handoff quality and reductions in medical errors and preventable adverse events.
Citation: Starmer AJ, Sectish TC, Simon DW, et al. Rates of medical errors and preventable adverse events among hospitalized children following implementation of a resident handoff bundle. JAMA. 2013;310(21):2262-2270.