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J Surg Educ. 2011 Nov-Dec;68(6):465-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2011.05.011. Epub 2011 Aug 3.

Handing over patient care: is it just the old broken telephone game?

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Department of Surgery, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA.



Handing over patient care remains a poorly understood process and remains a leading cause of medical error. We sought to examine how hand off delivery methods affect hand off quality and whether improvement would occur over time without formal training.


Three simulated-patient hand offs were developed; each with a distinct delivery method: in-person (IP), video-based (VB), and screen-based (SB). Participants were evaluated up to 4 times, each 6 months apart. During evaluations, residents received the 3 hand offs, answered a sleep and preference questionnaire, and proceeded to hand off the same 3 patients. Sessions were video-reviewed and hand offs scored for quality measures: word accuracy, errors of omission or commission, and appropriateness of clinical judgment. Quality measures among delivery methods and changes over time were compared.


Sixty-eight General Surgery residents (postgraduate year [PGY] 1-2) participated in at least 2 testing sessions, with 13 participating in 4. The IP method was superior to VB and SB for most hand off quality measures (each p < 0.001). With repeated testing, hand off quality measures improved (p < 0.001). However, patient hand offs continued to remain non-optimal, with appropriate judgment present in only 47%-77% of the hand offs. Sleep hours (mean 5 ± 2) were not found to be associated with hand off quality measures (p > 0.05). Most trainees preferred the IP method (73% vs 5% VB, 15% SB, 7% other; p < 0.001).


There is a need to provide formal training in hand off quality early in residency training. General surgery trainees clearly prefer and performed better, though not perfect, hand offs with the in-person method.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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