News Opinion

Is your handover process putting residents at risk?

Paul Patarou - Divisional Manager, Health & Social Care Division, Access Group

The wellbeing of residents is at the heart of every quality-driven care home. Making sure that service users are looked after, comfortable and that health conditions are closely monitored is an essential part of the daily process. Integral to this is the handover between shifts – something that’s heavily relied upon by nurses and staff who deliver the care.

An inefficient process

Unfortunately, handovers are often inefficient. They’re open to errors. People make mistakes, especially if it’s been a particularly long or busy shift.

When it comes to the notes themselves, staff can have a hard time deciphering illegible handwriting. Written notes are often open to interpretation too. One person’s understanding of dehydration may be different from the next person.

The very fact that handovers lack structure makes the information being recorded of variable quality at best. Not only that, notes are normally made at the end of a shift with nursing staff relying on memory. And those facts can become distorted. This not only leaves carers without accurate information, it can also put residents at risk.

Legal implications

Health issues are more likely to go unchecked and relatives are left in the dark when problems occur. For care homes this could lead to potential legal action. Take for instance, ‘Robin’s Law’, named after Robin Kitt Callender. Relatives want to make it a criminal offence if care homes fail to inform next of kin if a resident ‘who lacks capacity’ has an ongoing illness which subsequently results in death.

As Kings College highlighted in its research ‘How do handovers happen?’, this may have an impact on handover procedures. It’s cases like this that bring into sharp focus the procedures and practices in care. And the handover plays an important part. It helps to record care, keep next of kin informed, and makes sure that the right course of action is taken where necessary. But it can be hard to maintain accurate, meaningful manual records.

Real-time information

One way to overcome handover issues is to gather information directly at the point of care using handheld devices. This can help to provide an accurate and complete picture during each shift. When was medication last given? Have they used the toilet? Have they drunk their water allowance? It’s easier to answer these types of questions.

Carers can review the mobile device for each resident to understand what care is needed – or be alerted to special requirements such as changes in medication, illness or other issues affecting wellbeing. It gives them the information they need, when they need it, to deliver the right level of care.

Reducing errors

And this isn’t the only benefit of capturing data in real-time. It helps to reduce incidences of people forgetting what’s happened and provides an audit trail too. Having mobile devices throughout the residential home or with individual carers means notes can be taken as situations occur. Maybe someone slipped in the bathroom or was feeling unwell after lunch. All the details can be clearly and accurately documented.

This means that when it comes to the shift handover information is more likely to be correct with all the relevant detail. Carers don’t have to keep everything in their head as it’s logged on the device. What’s important is having accessibility to the data exactly when it’s needed.

By supporting the handover process, technology can help carers focus on what they’re there to do: provide continuity of quality care. Likewise, residential homes – and relatives – can make immediate and informed decisions where necessary based on accurate information. This not only helps to protect residential homes from potential lawsuits but, most importantly, protects the wellbeing of the people in their care too.

Edel Harris





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