Improving Engagement and Communication

Posted · Add Comment

A new style of team-based patient communication, the warm handoff, is being implemented in clinical and non-clinical settings. This strategy, used when a patient is transferred between members of the care team keeps the patient involved in their own care. Many benefits are being seen both for the patient, the providers, and the community organizations.

During a warm handoff both care team members that are involved in the transfer of care engage the patient and their family in the transition. With all parties present the team discusses the reason for the visit, including goals and health concerns. By asking questions such as, “Is there anything you would like to add?” the patient and family are encouraged to participate in the conversation. Vital signs, medications including any issues, updates to any reports, and/or any information on social determinants of health can be shared. In doing this the provider receives a more holistic view of the patient and the patient can verify the information given and add any context or clarification, if needed.

Warm handoffs prevent communication breakdowns that can occur when transferring a patient and serve as a safety check. Because the patient is involved in the transfer, immediate feedback can be given by both the patient and the provider. This can improve quality of care by providing details that electronic health records (EHR) may lack. The warm handoff can also increase a patient’s understanding of their diagnosis and plan of care. Active participation with their health care team encourages patients to get the help that they need, in some cases preventing a relapse. This strategy also encourages patients to follow through with their appointments because the initial contact with the provider has already been made. Warm handoffs are not only effective when used between two providers but also when involving clinical and non-clinical staff such as schedulers, lab technicians, peer counselors, and other team members.

Warm handoffs can also serve as a way of overcoming barriers and stigmas that patients may hold in seeing a Behavioral Health provider. This introductory contact helps the Behavioral Health provider address any issues or misunderstanding the patient may have that would prevent them from following through with their referral and helps the patient know what to expect at their first appointment.

Successful implementation of the warm handoff requires leadership buy-in at practices. It is helpful to identify a champion that can influence and help guide the implementation process. Adjustments may be needed in staffing and workflow to allow for two members of he health care team to have time to meet in person with patients and their families. Goals for handoffs and specific roles should be understood by the team and shared with the patients. As the warm handoff is integrated into the workflow the process can be evaluated and refined to ensure that team-based care is being used to it’s full potential.

Source: Implementation Quick Start Guide Warm Handoff by Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality