Handoffs: a Hands-on approach to client transfers

Submitted by: 09/02/2015 by Maureen Fitzgerald

National Recovery Month spreads the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover. 

Organizations across the country have been using the NIATx model for the past decade to make it easier for people to get into treatment, continue from one level of care to the next, and embrace life in recovery.

Successful transitions between levels of care or “handoffs” are critical in keeping clients engaged in treatment. Any number of things that may go wrong during the handoff can disrupt the client’s recovery journey. In this sense, the handoff process is part of the NIATx aim of increasing continuation.

Think about what happens when a person first calls your agency for help.  Does a live person answer the phone, or is the caller directed through an endless cycle of automated prompts? The caller might talk first to a receptionist, who then might forward the call to somebody else, who then might forward the call to voicemail.

What happens at the first intake appointment? How many different people does a client have to meet? How many forms have to be completed?

Every transition from one level of care to the next in addiction treatment is a handoff that presents a potential interruption or even an end to the client's recovery journey.

Think about a system outside the treatment field where handoffs are smooth and efficient. Maybe it’s the system used by the pit crew of a champion NASCAR driver, or the passing of a baton between Olympic relay racers. What makes those systems good? How can you learn what makes them so good and use those ideas in client care transitions?

NIATx Director Dave Gustafson shares his eight essential ingredients of a good transition in this article from Addiction ProfessionalDon’t Fumble the Treatment Handoff.

Looking for ideas on how to improve your client transitions? Visit the NIATx Promising Practices to Increase Continuation between Levels of Care.

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