Healthcare News & Insights

New technique improves patient handoffs

Miscommunications at hospitals can lead to patient errors that cause harm, particularly during patient handoffs. But a new technique tested by researchers could come in handy with preventing problems. 

465899655The technique, called I-PASS, was developed by researchers at Harvard Medical Schools. It’s a multifaceted approach that reminds clinicians to communicate key details of a patient’s condition to other staff members during shift changes.

As described in an article appearing on, I-PASS stands for:

  • Illness severity. Clinicians must discuss just how sick the patient is, and what interventions/treatments are required.
  • Patient summary. General information about the patient’s condition and hospital stay must be addressed.
  • Action list. Clinical staffers need to know what steps to take next.
  • Situational awareness and contingency planning. A clear plan needs to be in place in case the patient takes a turn for the worse.
  • Synthesis by receiver. Clinicians show they understand the information they’re received by repeating back what they heard for clarification.

With I-PASS, clinicians receive training about how to integrate these practices into their daily workflow, including how to make sure that electronic health records are properly updated to reflect the patient’s condition. And a significant focus is placed on improving handoff conversations throughout the facility.

Testing the waters

The researchers who created I-PASS recently launched a study to figure out how well the technique worked in the hospital setting.

In the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, nine hospitals used I-PASS for patient handoffs over an 18-month period. Researchers tracked the frequency of medical errors and preventable adverse events in each hospital before and after I-PASS implementation.

Results were favorable. At the end of the study, the rate of medical errors in the hospitals had decreased by 23%. And the rate of preventable adverse events went down by 30%.

Even better: Although the new handoff process required more detailed communication, changing it didn’t cause any significant bottlenecks when it came to workflow. In fact, handoff conversations took only slightly longer under I-PASS (2.5 minutes) than they did previously (2.4 minutes). So these changes increased efficiency and patient safety without taking too much extra time for clinicians.

Improving your handoffs

Encouraging your clinical staff to think of I-PASS during shift changes could make a big difference for your hospital’s patient safety rates. Bonus: Staff will communicate better about all kinds of issues relating to patient care, which can cause other positive changes to your hospital’s culture.

So take a closer look at the handoff process in your hospital. That way, you can see if similar training would be beneficial. Check out the I-PASS website for tools and materials to help improve the process.

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