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Impact of the communication and patient hand-off tool SBAR on patient safety: a systematic review
  1. Martin Müller1,2,
  2. Jonas Jürgens2,
  3. Marcus Redaèlli2,
  4. Karsten Klingberg1,
  5. Wolf E Hautz1,
  6. Stephanie Stock2
  1. 1 Department of Emergency Medicine, Inselspital, Bern University Hospital, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  2. 2 Institute of Health Economics and Clinical Epidemiology, University Hospital of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Martin Müller; martin.mueller2{at}


Objectives Communication breakdown is one of the main causes of adverse events in clinical routine, particularly in handover situations. The communication tool SBAR (situation, background, assessment and recommendation) was developed to increase handover quality and is widely assumed to increase patient safety. The objective of this review is to summarise the impact of the implementation of SBAR on patient safety.

Design A systematic review of articles published on SBAR was performed in PUBMED, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane Library and PsycINFO in January 2017. All original research articles on SBAR fulfilling the following eligibility criteria were included: (1) SBAR was implemented into clinical routine, (2) the investigation of SBAR was the primary objective and (3) at least one patient outcome was reported.

Setting A wide range of settings within primary and secondary care and nursing homes.

Participants A variety of heath professionals including nurses and physicians.

Primary and secondary outcome measures Aspects of patient safety (patient outcomes) defined as the occurrence or incidence of adverse events.

Results Eight studies with a before–after design and three controlled clinical trials performed in different clinical settings met the inclusion criteria. The objectives of the studies were to improve team communication, patient hand-offs and communication in telephone calls from nurses to physicians. The studies were heterogeneous with regard to study characteristics, especially patient outcomes. In total, 26 different patient outcomes were measured, of which eight were reported to be significantly improved. Eleven were described as improved but no further statistical tests were reported, and six outcomes did not change significantly. Only one study reported a descriptive reduction in patient outcomes.

Conclusions This review found moderate evidence for improved patient safety through SBAR implementation, especially when used to structure communication over the phone. However, there is a lack of high-quality research on this widely used communication tool.

Trial registration none

  • SBAR
  • hand-off situation
  • interprofessional communication
  • patient safety
  • adverse event

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  • Contributors All authors contributed to the conception of the review, analysis and interpretation of the results and the final approval of the manuscript. Study design: MM, JJ, MR, WEH, SS. Literature search and assessment (acquisition of data): MM, JJ, KK. Drafting the manuscript: MM, JJ, MR, WEH. Critical revision of the manuscript for intellectual content: MM, JJ, MR, KK, WEH, SS.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests WEH has received payment from the AO Foundation Zürich for educational consultations and congress invitations from Mundipharma Basel.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement There are no additional data available.

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