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­­Perfecting the Shift Change

In any environment with a constant flow of work, a smooth transition from the outbound shift to the inbound shift could be the difference between undisrupted output and a disaster waiting to happen. In hospitals where errors directly impact the healthcare outcomes of patients, it is imperative that the changing of shifts is carried out with absolute efficiency. The best healthcare providers focus on the following three principles when implementing shift change protocols.

  1. Standardize transfer of information: There is no room for ambiguity and interpretations when it comes to communicating patient status. When the outbound Nurse handover the care of their patients to the inbound Nurse, the patient’s health record should be in one consistent format such as a template or checklist. This reduces variability in communication and ensures that the right information is passed on each time.
  2. Pre-stage medical equipment: To ensure that the incoming shift is set up for success, the outbound shift could take some time to inspect and stage medical equipment. By doing so, we ensure that the equipment is in working condition, in the right location, and inadequate supply. Once the incoming shift arrives, they should be able to take over the work without having to spend time performing non-patient care tasks. Think of a Formula 1 pit stop. If the pit crew only started looking for tires once the car is in the pit, they would have already fallen hopelessly behind.
  3. Active management: We all look forward to the end of a workday but in a hospital environment, patient conditions can unexpectedly change, and we must remain alert. It is common in any work environment to see productivity slow down towards the end of the shift. Are there tasks that can be performed to ensure that the incoming shift is set up for success? Are there patient care duties that would benefit from having an extra set of hands? Questions like these allow managers to reallocate excess labour and ensure that productivity does not drop as the shift comes to an end.

A smooth shift change is indicative of a highly coordinated healthcare facility. When it comes to patient care, there is no room for error. By perfecting the shift change, we can reduce variability, alleviate the stress of medical staff, maximize productivity, and provide a positive patient experience.

The author of this blog, George Xu, is a Senior Consultant at Trindent.