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Intensive Crit Care Nurs. 2000 Dec;16(6):373-83.

The handover: uncovering the hidden practices of nurses.

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  • 1School of Postgraduate Nursing, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


This paper considers the ways in which the nursing handover involves a complex network of communication that impacts on nursing interactions. The critical ethnographic study upon which this paper is based involved a research group of six nurses who worked in one critical care unit. Data-collection methods involved professional journalling, participant observation, and individual and focus group interviews. The nursing handover took on many forms and served different purposes. At the start of a shift, the nurse coordinator of the previous shift presented a 'global' handover of all patients to oncoming nurses. Nurses proceeded then to the bedside handover, where the intention changed from one that involved a broad overview of patients, to one that concentrated on a patient's individual needs. Data analysis identified five practices for consideration: the global handover serving the needs of nurse coordinators; the examination; the tyranny of tidiness; the tyranny of busyness; and the need to create a sense of finality. In challenging nurses' understanding of these practices, they can become more sensitive to other nurses' needs, thus promoting the handover process as a site for collaborative and supportive communication.

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