Such differences also affect how the handoffs take place—whether in person in a group meeting, over the phone via conference call or through online formats such as Skype or Facetime, said Dr. Zacharek.
In a 2012 editorial about the surgical handoff, Dr. Zacharek and colleague Waleed M. Abuzeid, MD, a clinical instructor in rhinology and advanced sinus surgery at Stanford University, wrote that “poorly performed handoffs generate medical errors, increase the length of hospital stays, elevate costs and cause patient harm” (Ear Nose Throat J. 2012;91:460-464).
One way to fix these issues? Supervision is a key component for an effective handoff. “Most programs rely upon the senior/chief residents to closely monitor how junior residents provide hand off information,” said Dr. Zacharek. It is through this method that doctors learn, said Anna Messner, MD, professor, vice chair and residency program director in the department of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at Stanford University. “I think most residents get good at handoffs over time, so that by the time they finish they are fully competent,” she said. “But one of the ways they get good is that they learn from suboptimal experiences. In my opinion, the best way to speed up the learning process is to have senior residents observe junior residents doing actual handoffs. The senior or chief residents are the best at knowing what information is important, what does not need to be said, where are the potential problems.”