Operating room to intensive care unit handoffs and the risks of patient harm

Lisa M. McElroy*, Kelly M. Collins, Felicitas L. Koller, Rebeca Khorzad, Michael M. Abecassis, Jane L. Holl, Daniela P. Ladner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Background The goal of this study was to assess systems and processes involved in the operating room (OR) to intensive care unit (ICU) handoff in an attempt to understand the criticality of specific steps of the handoff. Methods We performed a failure modes, effects, and criticality analysis (FMECA) of the OR to ICU handoff of deceased donor liver transplant recipients using in-person observations and descriptions of the handoff process from a multidisciplinary group of clinicians. For each step in the process, failures were identified along with frequency of occurrence, causes, potential effects and safeguards. A Risk Priority Number (RPN) was calculated for each failure (frequency × potential effect × safeguard; range 1-least risk to 1,000-most risk). Results Using FMECA, we identified 37 individual steps in the OR to ICU handoff process. In total, 81 process failures were identified, 22 of which were determined to be critical and 36 of which relied on weak safeguards such as informal human verification. Process failures with the greatest risk of harm were lack of preliminary OR to ICU communication (RPN 504), team member absence during handoff communication (RPN 480), and transport equipment malfunction (Risk Priority Number 448). Conclusion Based on the analysis, recommendations were made to reduce potential for patient harm during OR to ICU handoffs. These included automated transfer of OR data to ICU clinicians, enhanced ICU team member notification processes and revision of the postoperative order sets. The FMECA revealed steps in the OR to ICU handoff that are high risk for patient harm and are currently being targeted for process improvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)588-594
Number of pages7
JournalSurgery (United States)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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