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What’s So Interesting About SBAR?

By Frank Federico | Thursday, August 8, 2013



People come to IHI.org to search for a lot of things, but SBAR is always at the top of the list.  What’s so interesting about SBAR? (And what does SBAR stand for anyway?) Have you ever been in a situation — whether personal or professional — when you had a lot of information to tell someone, and you needed to convey it as quickly and efficiently as possible? 

Let’s take a personal example: You’re under pressure to respond to an invitation for your organization to participate in a high-profile panel discussion. An email arrived this morning saying that they need the decision by noon. In order to move forward, you need approval from one of the vice-presidents, and you know you’ll only get a few minutes of her time, so you prepare a quick summary. You start by stating the situation: “We need to convey our final decision by noon.” You follow with background: “We’ve been invited to participate on a panel that will require three days of our time.” You assess the situation: “We have the time and knowledge to contribute to the final decision of the panel. And finally, you make a recommendation: “Based on the high profile of the panel, I think that this is a wonderful opportunity to raise the visibility of our organization and the individual we select to represent us. I recommend that we participate. Do you agree?”

You just used SBAR — Situation, Background, Assessment and Recommendation — a handy tool for conveying critical information quickly and accurately. It was developed in the US Navy and used widely in aviation. Today, more and more health care providers around the world are using it in critical  situations and when they want to convey information efficiently and concisely.

Framing vital information in a manner that makes it easier for a clinician to understand the present state, what has happened, the result, and what should be done can literally mean the difference between life and death. This flexible communication improvement tool has made a significant difference in health care organizations where it has been adopted as standard practice. Take a look at 5 things everyone should know about SBAR.


1. SBAR stands for Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation.

2. SBAR offers a simple way to standardize communication, providing all parties with a standard and concise way of giving and receiving information.

3. SBAR is a communication process adapted by Kaiser Permanente from a process used by the US Navy.

4. SBAR has been adapted to be used in a variety of situations including handovers.

5. SBAR is a useful tool in both individual and team communications.

How does your organization use it today? Share a story about when you’ve used SBAR.

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