Background: Patient handoffs from an operating room (OR) to an intensive care unit (ICU) require precise coordination among surgical, anesthesia, and critical care teams. Although several standardized handoff strategies have been developed, their sustainability remains is poor. Little is known regarding factors that impede handoff standardization. Purpose: Our objectives are three-fold: (1) highlight compliance failures with standardized handoffs; (2) identify factors contributing to compliance failures; and (3) develop guidelines for sustainable handoff interventions and processes. Methods: We used ethnographic data collection methods—general observations, handoff shadowing, and semi-structured clinician interviews—with 84 participants from OR, ICU, and telemedicine teams at a large academic medical center. We conducted thematic analysis supported by inductive and deductive coding using the Systems Engineering Initiative for Patient Safety (SEIPS) framework. Results: Post-operative handoffs can be characterized into four phases: pre-transfer preparation, transfer and setup, report preparation and delivery, and post-transfer care. We identified compliance failures with standardized handoff protocols and associated risk factors within the OR-ICU work system including limited teamwork, absence of handoff-specific tools, and poor clinician buy-in. To improve handoffs, clinicians provided suggestions for developing collaborative Electronic Health Record (EHR)-integrated handoff tools and re-engineering the handoff process. Conclusions: Compliance failures are prevalent in all handoff phases, leading to poor adherence with standardization. We propose theoretically grounded guidelines for designing “flexibly standardized” bundled handoff interventions for ensuring care continuity in OR to ICU transitions of care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104458
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Communication
  • Compliance
  • Patient transfer
  • Safety
  • Surgical patients


Dive into the research topics of 'An observational study of postoperative handoff standardization failures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this