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Making Sense of Handover

Handover is an important nursing responsibility because it is essential for good communication that allows effective transfer of information, responsibility and accountability for patient care to an incoming team. Handover is commonly given/received on a one-to-one or group basis. In some places, a taped handover is the method used to relay information between shifts.

Several communication skills are required to be able to give/receive a handover adequately, particularly listening, note-taking and comprehension skills. It is also important to understand abbreviations and acronyms and have confidence in medical terminology and nursing jargon.

Each health care facility will have its own handover style and format. In general, however, the type of information that might be given about each patient includes:

  • Patient’s name and bed number
  • Diagnosis
  • Relevant clinical history
  • Resuscitation status (if not for full resuscitation)
  • Relevant nursing care, eg. IV therapy, wounds, tests or procedures which will occur during the next shift.
  • Significant events within the last 24 hours
  • Any changes that have occurred/are expected to occur in the patient�s condition.

The aim of this vignette is to provide an opportunity for students and clinical staff to reflect on the process of receiving/giving patient handovers. Effective handover processes improve the flow of critical information between healthcare professionals. This ensures patient safety and the continuity of care (ACSQHC, 2010).


Thinking points

For students

Use this video to help you become familiar with the process of listening to and/or giving a handover, and practising your handover skills during clinical placement.

Key points to become aware of are:

  • listening carefully to ‘make sense’ of the information given,
  • understanding the important points,
  • identifying what has not been understood,
  • asking questions if something is not understood
  • obtaining further information, where needed.

For clinical staff

Use this video to reflect on the process of helping students develop the skills required to effectively listen to and/or give a handover.

Key points to reflect on include:

  • the impact of ‘insider knowledge’ in terms of abbreviations, colloquialisms etc.,
  • the speed at which verbal handovers are delivered,
  • the medium which is used for giving handover, eg. face to face, audio recording etc.
  • the effect of factors such as context, prior experience etc. on student anxiety and performance
  • the use of questioning to ensure clear understanding


Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (2010). The OSSIE Guide to Clinical Handover Improvement. Sydney, ACSQHC.