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Transferring care to others

What is a handover?

Two hands exchanging a batonA handover is the transfer of responsibility and accountability for some or all aspects of care for a patient or group of patients, on a temporary or permanent basis. It entails appropriately transferring information to help deliver safe care.

What information is included?

The information transferred depends on the clinical circumstances, and may include the:
  • clinical condition
  • status of investigations and treatments
  • likely clinical course
  • possible problems and consideration of strategies should problems arise
  • responsibility for ongoing care

As appropriate, the handover process should include opportunities to discuss the meaning of the information, seek clarification and ask questions.

Handovers occur frequently

During even a short period of care, a patient can be treated by several different healthcare providers in multiple settings. Whether in inpatient or outpatient settings, on any given day patients may encounter many staff shifts.

In the United States it is estimated that during a typical hospital inpatient stay, a patient's care will be handed over an average of almost five times per day. Rates of handover in Canada are likely similar.

Think about it

Reflect on your own experience and the number of times doctors, nurses, or others transfer responsibility for various aspects of care to others in their own or other professions.

Common examples of handovers involving physicians include:

  • at the end of a shift in an emergency department, intensive care unit (ICU), or ward
  • to an on-call physician overnight or on a weekend
  • to a colleague when going on vacation
  • to a consultant
  • to a specialist of another service at the same or a different facility