The role of documents and documentation in communication failure across the perioperative pathway. A literature review

Sandra Braaf, Elizabeth Manias, Robin Riley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Communication practices of healthcare professionals have been strongly implicated in the cascade of events that unfold into poor outcomes for surgical patients. The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of documents and documentation in communication failure among healthcare professionals across the perioperative pathway. The perioperative pathway consists of 3 interconnecting, but geographically distinct domains: preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative. Design: A comprehensive search of the literature was undertaken to provide a focused analysis and appraisal of past research. Data sources: Electronic databases searched included the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Medline and PsycINFO from 1990 to end February 2011. Additionally, references of retrieved articles were manually examined for papers not revealed via electronic searches. Review methods: Content analysis was used to draw out major themes and summarise the information. Results: Fifty-nine papers were selected based on their relevance to the topic. The results highlight that documentation such as surgeons' operation notes, anaesthetists' records and nurses' perioperative notes, deficient in the areas of design, quality, accuracy and function, contributed to the development of communication failure among healthcare professionals across the perioperative pathway. The consequences of communication failure attributable to documentation ranged from inefficiency, delays and increased workload, through to serious adverse patient events such as wrong site surgery. Documents that involve the coordination of verbal communication of multidisciplinary surgical teams, such as preoperative checklists, also influenced communication and surgical patient outcomes. Conclusions: Effective communication among healthcare professionals is vital to the delivery of safe patient care. Multiple documents utilised across the perioperative pathway have a critical role in the communication of information essential to the immediate and ongoing care of surgical patients. Failure in the communicative function of documents and documentation impedes the transfer of information and contributes to the cascade of events that results in compromised patient safety and potentially adverse patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1024-1038
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Communication
  • Document
  • Documentation
  • Literature review
  • Perioperative
  • Record keeping

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