Multi-professional patterns and methods of communication during patient handoffs


OBJECTIVE Health information technology has been shown to influence the communication patterns of healthcare providers. The goal of this study was to learn more about how healthcare providers communicate and exchange patient clinical information during patient handoffs (transfers) between units in an acute care setting. METHODS Convenience sampling was used to select five patient handoffs. Questionnaires were distributed to providers identified through observation and snowball sampling. Social network analysis methodology was used to develop sociograms of the emergent communication patterns and identify the role of individual providers in the handoff process based on the number of contacts with other providers and incoming and outgoing communication activity. Individual handoff network size ranged from 11 to 20 providers. Participants were asked to describe the method of communication they used to access or share clinical information with other providers, their preferred method of communication; their satisfaction with the available options; and their suggestions for how the process could be improved. RESULTS The network patterns that emerged uncovered the overlapping use of synchronous and asynchronous communication methods (verbally via phone or in person; or written via paper charts and/or an electronic records). No particular professional group dominated or coordinated information flow; instead each handoff network exhibited unique communication patterns and information coordination by two or more influential providers from nursing, medicine, or pharmacy. Most (84%) participants preferred verbal communication. Overall satisfaction with the current communication process varied by unit: 82% of emergency department providers and 54% of the providers working in the admitting units stated they were satisfied or very satisfied. Recommendations for improvement included converting all units to the electronic health record, electronic handoff communication modules and asynchronous multi-professional communication logs. CONCLUSIONS The results of this exploratory study provide a foundation for future research examining how network structure and communication principles can be used to design health information technology that compliments the non-linear information gathering and dissemination behaviors of providers from multiple professions.


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