Passing the Baton: A Grounded Practical Theory of Handoff Communication Between Multidisciplinary Providers in Two Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Settings
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- Koenig, C.J., Maguen, S., Daley, A. et al. J GEN INTERN MED (2013) 28: 41. doi:10.1007/s11606-012-2167-5
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Handoffs are communication processes that enact the transfer of responsibility between providers across clinical settings. Prior research on handoff communication has focused on inpatient settings between provider teams and has emphasized patient safety. This study examines handoff communication within multidisciplinary provider teams in two outpatient settings.
To conduct an exploratory study that describes handoff communication among multidisciplinary providers, to develop a theory-driven descriptive framework for outpatient handoffs, and to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different handoff types.
DESIGN & SETTING
Qualitative, in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 31 primary care, mental health, and social work providers in two Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center outpatient clinics.
Audio-recorded interviews were transcribed and analyzed using Grounded Practical Theory to develop a theoretical model of and a descriptive framework for handoff communication among multidisciplinary providers.
Multidisciplinary providers reported that handoff decisions across settings were made spontaneously and without clear guidelines. Two situated values, clinic efficiency and patient-centeredness, shaped multidisciplinary providers’ handoff decisions. Providers reported three handoff techniques along a continuum: the electronic handoff, which was the most clinically efficient; the provider-to-provider handoff, which balanced clinic efficiency and patient-centeredness; and the collaborative handoff, which was the most patient-centered. Providers described handoff choice as a practical response to manage constituent features of clinic efficiency (time, space, medium of communication) and patient-centeredness (information continuity, management continuity, relational continuity, and social interaction). We present a theoretical and descriptive framework to help providers evaluate differential handoff use, reflect on situated values guiding clinic communication, and guide future research.
Handoff communication reflected multidisciplinary providers’ efforts to balance clinic efficiency with patient-centeredness within the constraints of day-to-day clinical practice. Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses among alternative handoff options may enhance multidisciplinary provider handoff decision-making and may contribute to increased coordination and continuity of care across outpatient settings.