Why It Matters
"Unlike so much of the jargon and mind-boggling abundance of acronyms in health care, [SBAR is] simple and easy to remember. It helps us organize our thoughts and pare communication down to its essentials."
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What Makes SBAR So “Sticky”?

By Jo Ann Endo | Monday, May 2, 2016

What Makes SBAR So Sticky

What is it about SBAR?

SBAR — which stands for Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation — is a communication framework health professionals use to efficiently and concisely convey crucial information. 

For years, it’s been one of the most popular search terms on the IHI website. Why?

I suspect it has something to do with its elegance:

  • S=Situation (a concise statement of the problem)
  • B=Background (pertinent and brief information related to the situation)
  • A=Assessment (analysis and considerations of options — what you found/think)
  • R=Recommendation (action requested/recommended — what you want)

Here’s an example of a respiratory therapist using SBAR to communicate with a physician regarding a patient’s situation:

Situation 
“This is Nurse Sanchez calling from 4 West. I’m calling about Mr. Freedman, who is increasingly short of breath.” 

Background 
“He’s a patient admitted yesterday with chronic lung disease on multiple medications. He has been in good health with no recent admissions, but was admitted for increasing shortness of breath with ambulation.”

Assessment 
“His pulse oximetry fell to 75% this morning, down from 92% on RA last night. He has decreased breath sounds on the right side. I think he has a collapsed lung.” 

Recommendation 
“I think he probably needs a chest tube. I need you to come see him now. When can you be here?” 

SBAR is what Chip and Dan Heath call “sticky.” Unlike so much of the jargon and mind-boggling abundance of acronyms in health care, it’s simple and easy to remember. It helps us organize our thoughts and pare communication down to its essentials. It sets up clear expectations between colleagues for how to convey and receive information.

I no longer work in a hospital setting, but even I use SBAR from time to time in emails to my IHI colleagues. I find SBAR particularly helpful when I have to bring someone up to speed quickly about a complicated situation for which I need their input or action.

If you haven’t searched for it already, I highly recommend downloading IHI’s SBAR Toolkit. It contains everything a team needs to learn to use SBAR, including a range of teaching tools (including clinical scenarios), worksheets, and tips.

Do you use SBAR in your daily work? Maybe even in your personal life? We’d love to hear how in the comments below.

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