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N Engl J Med. 2014 Nov 6;371(19):1803-12. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa1405556.

Changes in medical errors after implementation of a handoff program.

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From the Department of Medicine, Division of General Pediatrics, Boston Children's Hospital (A.J.S., T.C.S., C.P.L., A.D.A., E.L.N., L.L.T.), Harvard Medical School (A.J.S., A.K.D., S.R.L., J.M.R., T.C.S., C.P.L.), Center for Patient Safety Research, Division of General Medicine (A.K.D., C.A.K., J.M.R., S.R.L., M.F.W., C.S.Y., K.R.Z.) and Division of Sleep Medicine (C.P.L.), Brigham and Women's Hospital, and CRICO/Risk Management Foundation (C.A.K.) - all in Boston; the Department of Pediatrics, Doernbecher Children's Hospital, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland (A.J.S., M.A.); the Department of Pediatrics, Section of General Pediatrics (N.D.S.) and Section of Critical Care (S.C.), St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia; the Departments of Pediatrics (R.S., J.B.S., A.T.S.) and Neurology (J.F.B.), Primary Children's Hospital, Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah School of Medicine, and Institute for Health Care Delivery Research, Intermountain Healthcare (R.S.), Salt Lake City; the Department of Pediatrics, Benioff Children's Hospital, University of California, San Francisco (D.C.W., G.R.), and the Department of Pediatrics, Division of General Pediatrics, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto (R.L.B., L.A.D., J.L.E., S.J.P.) - both in California; the Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital Colorado, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora (K.M.W.); the Department of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati (J.K.O., L.G.S.); the Department of Paediatrics (Z.B., M.C., S.M.), Centre for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety (M.C.), and Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (S.M.), Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto, Toronto; the Department of Pediatrics, Division of General Pediatrics, Kapi'olani Medical Center for W



Miscommunications are a leading cause of serious medical errors. Data from multicenter studies assessing programs designed to improve handoff of information about patient care are lacking.


We conducted a prospective intervention study of a resident handoff-improvement program in nine hospitals, measuring rates of medical errors, preventable adverse events, and miscommunications, as well as resident workflow. The intervention included a mnemonic to standardize oral and written handoffs, handoff and communication training, a faculty development and observation program, and a sustainability campaign. Error rates were measured through active surveillance. Handoffs were assessed by means of evaluation of printed handoff documents and audio recordings. Workflow was assessed through time-motion observations. The primary outcome had two components: medical errors and preventable adverse events.


In 10,740 patient admissions, the medical-error rate decreased by 23% from the preintervention period to the postintervention period (24.5 vs. 18.8 per 100 admissions, P<0.001), and the rate of preventable adverse events decreased by 30% (4.7 vs. 3.3 events per 100 admissions, P<0.001). The rate of nonpreventable adverse events did not change significantly (3.0 and 2.8 events per 100 admissions, P=0.79). Site-level analyses showed significant error reductions at six of nine sites. Across sites, significant increases were observed in the inclusion of all prespecified key elements in written documents and oral communication during handoff (nine written and five oral elements; P<0.001 for all 14 comparisons). There were no significant changes from the preintervention period to the postintervention period in the duration of oral handoffs (2.4 and 2.5 minutes per patient, respectively; P=0.55) or in resident workflow, including patient-family contact and computer time.


Implementation of the handoff program was associated with reductions in medical errors and in preventable adverse events and with improvements in communication, without a negative effect on workflow. (Funded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and others.).

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