Contrasting discourse styles and barriers to patient participation in bedside nursing handovers

Suzanne Eggins*, Diana Slade

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


This paper applies qualitative discourse analysis to 'shift-change handovers', events in which nurses hand over care for their patients to their colleagues. To improve patient safety, satisfaction and inclusion, hospitals increasingly require nursing staff to hand over at the patient's bedside, rather than in staff-only areas. However, bedside handover is for many a new and challenging communicative practice. To evaluate how effectively nurses achieve bedside handover, we observed, audio-recorded and transcribed nursing shift-change handovers in a short stay medical ward at an Australian public hospital. Drawing on discourse analysis influenced by systemic functional linguistics we identify four handover styles: exclusive vs inclusive and objectifying vs agentive. The styles capture interactional/interpersonal meaning choices associated with whether and how nurses include patients during handover, and informational/ideational meaning choices associated with whether or not nurses select and organise clinical information in ways that recognise patients' agency. We argue that the co-occurrence of inclusive with agentive and exclusive with objectifying styles demonstrates that how nurses talk about their patients is powerfully influenced by whether and how they also talk to them. In noting the continued dominance of exclusive objectifying styles in handover interactions, we suggest that institutional change needs to be supported by communication training.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-83
Number of pages13
JournalCommunication and Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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