Patient handoffs: Is cross cover or night shift better?

Alanna Higgins*, Melissa L. Brannen, Heather L Heiman, Mark D Adler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: Studies show singular handoffs between health care providers to be risky. Few describe sequential handoffs or compare handoffs from different provider types. We investigated the transfer of information across 2 handoffs using a piloted survey instrument. We compared crosscover (every fourth night call) with dedicated night-shift residents. Methods: Surveys assessing provider knowledge of hospitalized patients were administered to pediatric residents. Primary teams were surveyed about their handoff upon completion of daytime coverage of a patient. Night-shift or cross-covering residents were surveyed about their handoff of the same patient upon completion of overnight coverage. Pediatric hospitalists rated the consistency of information between the surveys. Absolute difference was calculated between the 2 providers' rating of a patient's (a) complexity and (b) illness severity. Scores were compared across provider type. Results: Fifty-nine complete handoff pairs were obtained. Fourteen and 45 handoff surveys were completed by a cross-covering and a night-shift provider, respectively. There was no significant difference in information consistency between primary and night-shift (median, 4.0; interquartile range [IQR], 3-4) versus primary and cross-covering providers (median, 4.0; IQR, 3-4). There was no significant difference in median patient complexity ratings (night shift, 3.0; IQR, 1-5, versus cross cover, 3.5; IQR, 1-5) or illness severity ratings (night shift, 2.0; IQR, 1-4, versus cross-cover, 3.0; IQR, 1-6) when comparing provider types giving a handoff. Conclusions: We did not find a difference in physicians' transfer of information during 2 handoffs among providers taking traditional call or on night shift. Development of tools to measure handoff consistency is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-92
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Patient Safety
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Cross cover
  • Handoff
  • Night shift
  • Residents
  • Safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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