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Is Patient Care Suffering From Poor Handoff?

As a patient in the hospital, you might have a merry-go-round of doctors caring for you during your stay as you are seen by various specialists or when personnel shifts change. You also might naturally assume that each time you get a new doctor, they have extensively communicated with the last doctor about your medical information.

Unfortunately, this may not always be the case behind the scene. A large study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) across 653 hospitals and with over 400,000 hospital staff recently revealed that handoff communication is the No. 2 area with most potential for improvement for most hospitals. Less than half (47 percent) of the hospitals in the study reported positive performance for patient handoff!

Handoff communication in hospitals happens when the responsibility for a patient is passed off from one heath care provider to another. Information about the patient’s care, condition, treatment, and services is also exchanged. Because the patient's critical health information is being communicated among the caregivers, handoff is important for quality care and patient safety.

Working at pMD, a mobile software company for health care providers, has allowed me to see first hand how valuable a good handoff system is for patient care. The degree to which health care providers perform patient handoff varies dramatically for different groups and specialties. Some groups communicate face-to-face for each patient after each visit, while others take part in almost zero handoff communication. It’s a scary reality from a patient’s perspective. Performing patient handoff can be loosely compared to going to the gym; you know how important it is and that you should exercise every day, but it’s easy to make excuses why you can’t.

After seeing the need for a better way for providers to communicate about patients, we integrated a simple, straightforward patient handoff functionality into our mobile charge capture software for more seamless communication among the providers. Health care providers are highly mobile and need a tool that allows them to access and exchange clinical information from anywhere at any time.

Studies such as this one conducted by AHRQ are helpful in bringing to light some of the trending problems facing health care today. Health care practices need to implement an effective and seamless handoff system to prevent important patient care information from getting missed. We need to make fewer excuses and focus on using a better patient handoff system. (And it wouldn’t hurt to hit the gym more often too!)

Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality