Improving the handover of complex trauma patients by implementing a standardised process

Published:January 06, 2023DOI:



      Patient handover continues to be an international health priority in the prevention of patient harm. Transitioning patients from the intensive care unit (ICU) to the ward is complex, particularly for trauma patients, due to the multifaceted aspects of their care requirements as a result of multiple injuries and different speciality teams.


      To design, implement, and evaluate the efficacy of a standardised handover process and tool for the transfer of ICU trauma patients.


      A multimethod before/after study design was used. This included observations before and after an implemented transfer process and semistructured interviews with ICU and ward nurses caring for trauma patients. Comparisons were made of data before and after the intervention.


      Eleven patient handovers were observed, and 21 nurses (11 from the ICU and 10 from the ward) were interviewed. Patients and family members were included during the handover following the intervention (n = 0/10 [0%] vs n = 4/11 [36%]) and the ward nurses were asked if they had any concerns (n = 5/10 [50%] vs n = 10/11 [91%]). Improvements in patient observations handed over were reported following the intervention. However, omissions remained in some key areas including patient introduction, patient identity, fluid balance, and allergies/alerts. Thematic analysis of interviews revealed that the new handover process was perceived advantageous by both ICU and ward nurses because of its structured and comprehensive approach. Identified future improvements included the need for hospital service managers to ensure integration of ICU and ward electronic health record systems.


      Precise, accurate, and complete handover remains a patient safety concern. Improvements were achieved using a standardised process and handover tool for the transfer of complex trauma patients. Further improvements are required to reduce the failure to hand over essential patient information.


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