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Qual Saf Health Care. 2010 Dec;19(6):493-7. doi: 10.1136/qshc.2009.033480. Epub 2010 Apr 8.

The published literature on handoffs in hospitals: deficiencies identified in an extensive review.

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  • 1School of Information, Universityof Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1107, USA. mdc@umich.edu



In hospitals, handoffs are episodes in which control of, or responsibility for, a patient passes from one health professional to another, and in which important information about the patient is also exchanged. In view of the growing interest in improving handoff processes, and the need for guidance in arriving at standardised handoff procedures in response to regulatory requirements, an extensive review of the research on handoffs was conducted.


The authors have collected all research treatments of hospital handoffs involving medical personnel published in English through July 2008.


A review of this literature yields four significant


(1) the definition of the handoff concept in the literature is poorly delimited; (2) the meaning of 'to standardise' has not been developed with adequate clarity; (3) the literature shows that handoffs perform important functions beyond patient safety, but the trade-offs of these functions against safety considerations are not analysed; (4) studies so far do not fully establish that attempts at handoff standardisation have produced marked gains in measured patient outcomes.


The existing literature on patient handoffs does not yet adequately support either definitive research conclusions on best handoff practices or the standardisation of handoffs that has been mandated by some regulators.

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