Nursing Handovers: Important Complex Interactions with Limited Guidance

Roberta Heale, Associate Editor EBN, @robertaheale @EBNursingBMJ

I don’t know about you, but when I was in nursing school I was never taught anything about the ‘nursing handover’, or report given to the oncoming nurse. We learned what to do from our nursing preceptors and from the other nurses when we started practicing. The content provided about patients during handovers was completely dependent upon the individual nurse reporting.  Detail was most commonly provided for specific incidents, like a patient fall, but with the complexity of care for up to 12 patients, there was very little time to discuss important information, such as the medications prescribed to the patient(s). Like many other things in nursing, it has just been accepted as ‘how things are done’.

I recently became interested in the process when I hosted a podcast with Dr. Bernice Redley who discussed a research article that explored medication communication during nursing handovers.

Article:Braaf S, Rixon S, Williams A et al. Medication communication during handover interactions in specialty practice settings. J Clin Nurs. 2015 Oct;24(19-20):2859-70

Click here to listen to the podcast

Looking back, it’s clearly such a complex and important part of nursing.  It seems odd that this critical process has been so overlooked in my education, and possibly in the education of many other nurses.  There is definitely the need for more research into the complex communication of nursing handovers.  It’s important to identify the priorities for the patient care for the incoming shift, but also to anticipate issues, such as medication interactions.  Development of standardized information for handovers may be helpful, yet it would need to be flexible enough to account for the unexpected and unusual circumstances.

If you are like me and haven’t given a lot of thought to nursing handovers, I encourage you to listen to the podcast as a start.


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