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Health care facilities must implement a standardized approach to communication between caregivers when patients are handed off from one caregiver to another, according to 2006 National Patient Safety Goals set by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). These handoffs occur when a patient moves from one department to another within the same facility, during a shift change, or during transfer to another facility.


Under new JCAHO guidelines, a facility must demonstrate that it has a process to ensure adequate transfer of information about a patient's condition and treatment, including his allergies, current or potential problems (such as his risk of falling), medications, and the stability of vital signs. The JCAHO surveyors will be inspecting facilities for problems that may contribute to poor communication during handoffs, such as use of tape recorders or nonstandardized forms and illegible handwriting.


To make patient handoffs safer, JCAHO makes four recommendations:


* Standardize handoff procedures.


* Use "what if" scenarios to test the reliability of procedures.


* Make a special effort to improve communication when patients are transported for diagnostic testing or procedures.


* Audit adherence to the standardized procedure.



For more information, visit JCAHO's Web site at