At one time, a hospital would be called a 24-hour institution but now it’s a business. Within this business are shift workers that include nurses, technicians, clerical staff and even hospital employed doctors who are now called hospitalists. In a teaching hospital resident physicians also work in shifts so the responsibility of patient care is always being transferred from one group of healthcare providers to another. Do they always communicate effectively? Regrettably, “no.”

Sign-outs, handoffs, shift changes, nurses’ report. These are the multiple names for the process where a departing provider is responsible for letting the arriving provider know what’s going on with the patient. According to statistics, 80% of medical mistakes occur during shift changes and 50 to 60% of them are preventable. Listed below is an excerpt from The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy that teaches pregnant moms what things should be known during a shift change.

“While in labor, there will most likely be a change of shift and a transfer of information should occur. However, it is not always successful. Information is sometimes lost, incomplete, misunderstood or inaccurate. Your doula or a family member should make a list of all tests that have been ordered since your admission. He or she should also know your most recent vital signs, including your blood pressure and whether your baby’s fetal tracing was reassuring. Other important include:

1. The length of time since your membranes ruptured: the longer your membranes have been ruptured, the greater your chances of developing an infection in the amniotic sac around the baby called Chorioamnionitis

2. A positive group B strep that must be treated with antibiotics to prevent your baby from contracting the infection

3. The length of time you have been receiving Pitocin. The status of your fetl tracing should be noted to make certain that the baby can tolerate the contractions caused by Pitocin.

4. Any other significant clinical issue that might have been discussed that could adversely affect your labor
Before the end of a shift, your family member or doula might ask the departing nurse or provider to review his or her notes regarding your care and ask “Is this correct?” When the new shift takes over, your doula or family member would show them the notes and ask whether they received the same information that was verified by the previous shift.

The path to a successful delivery becomes much straighter when everyone marches in the same direction. Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.

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