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Addressing Shift Change Issues in Nursing

When a nurse completes a shift, a different nurse comes on duty to take over patient care, giving the first nurse a much-needed break. It is important to make sure that the shift change transitions from one nurse to another are smooth. Addressing particular issues of shift change transitions is key. In the past, the nurse going off duty and the nurse coming on would confer verbally or via notes at the nurses’ station or in the hallway, but that tradition is changing.

In recent years, nurses have become more likely to confer in the patient’s room as the shifts change. The goal of this change is to provide better patient care in various ways, including reducing oversights or errors as nurses exchange information.

Why Shift Change Issues Are Important

Addressing shift-change transitions and related issues can lead to better patient care and satisfaction and increased efficiency. On the other hand, ignoring shift change issues can lead to just the opposite — lower-quality patient care and dissatisfied patients. The healthcare facility itself also experiences reduced efficiency when these issues go unaddressed. This is especially true in hospital settings, where shift changes are frequent occurrences.

Benefits of Better Shift Change Procedures

When nurses have streamlined shift change procedures and hand-off communication, everyone benefits — hospital staff, patients and their families. The specific benefits that nurses and patients experience include the following:

  • Better patient care. The likelihood of errors and oversights decreases.
  • Better communication. Information shared between nurses, patients and their families is more accurate. Patients and nurses get a chance to ask important questions.
  • Improved safety. Nurses and patients can discuss which medications the patient is receiving and at what doses. Nurses can also discuss other safety issues, such as whether the patient needs help getting into and out of bed and preventing falls or other dangerous situations.
  • Improved patient satisfaction. Patients and their families feel safer and more confident in the care they receive when nurses complete shift changes in their rooms.

Despite these extensive benefits, some people who work in nursing have resisted these changes. Perhaps this is because change is more difficult than maintaining the status quo. Others worry that allowing nurses to confer with one another in the patient’s room will take too much time and reduce efficiency, causing nurses to work more overtime hours. In fact, the opposite is true; with more efficiency, nurses work fewer overtime hours.

When one nurse’s shift ends and another nurse’s begins, patients’ continuity of care should not fall by the wayside. Shift-change transitions can be completely seamless and seemingly effortless. Healthcare facilities simply need to adequately address shift change issues.

Learn about the Columbus State online RN to BSN program.


Alzola, Briana. (2016, Febrary 10). ‘Shift Happens:’ Nursing team launches project to smooth shift-change operations.

Friesen, M., White, S., & Byers, J. (n.d.). Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses.

Gooch, Kelly. (2015, October 27). The new nurse shift change: 6 things to know.

Landro, Laura. (2015, October 26). The Most Crucial Half-Hour at a Hospital: The Shift Change.

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