Noise and turn-taking impact postanesthesia care unit handoff efficiency

Kristen L.W. Webster, Elizabeth H. Lazzara, Joseph R. Keebler, Laura L. Roberts, James H. Abernathy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Optimal handoffs are pivotal for patient safety, yet some of the underlying communication mechanisms which support effective handoffs remain to be understood. As handoffs are conversations between providers, understanding communication mechanisms is necessary to improve handoff protocol development. The objective of this study was to characterize communication variables influencing the efficiency of handoffs in the postanesthesia care unit. Methods: We conducted a single-center, observational study of handoffs over a three-week period in June/July of 2017. We recorded 96 handoffs between the cardiac operating room and postanesthesia care unit. We defined and measured efficiency by dividing the count of unique, nonrepetitive pieces of information by duration of the handoff conversation. Furthermore, we calculated and measured two communication variables: turn-taking and noise. We utilized West and Zimmerman’s Syntactic Scale to analyze turn taking by segregating noise into three subcategories: environmental noise caused by equipment, environmental noise caused by staff, and third-party interruptions. Finally, we recorded and measured the frequency and duration of noise and turn-taking during the handoff events. Results: Due to technical issues, we transcribed and analyzed a total of 85 observations. Providers passed an average of 31.68 unique pieces of information during each handoff with the average length being 1 min and 46 s. Overlaps was the most common type of turn-taking behavior. Activity noise was the most common type of noise. Activity noise took place an average of 3.64 times per handoff and lasted an average of 9.83 s. Turn-taking accounted for 15.6% of variance in handoff efficiency. Together, noise and turn-taking accounted for 25.2% of the variance in handoff efficiency. Conclusion: Because turn-taking and noise account for over a quarter the variance in handoff efficiency, recommendations include providing quiet locations for handoffs to take place. Additionally, we recommend that receivers provide input in any handoff interventional studies as their involvement would decrease the need to interrupt or clarify information from the sender.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-105
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Patient Safety and Risk Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Handoffs
  • care transitions
  • communication
  • noise
  • postanesthesia care
  • turn-taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy


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