Abstract Although communication failures between professionals in acute care delivery occur, explanations for these failures remain unclear. We aim to gain a deeper understanding of interprofessional communication failures by assessing two different explanations for them. A multiple case study containing six cases (i.e. acute care chains) was carried out in which semi-structured interviews, physical artifacts and archival records were used for data collection. Data were entered into matrices and the pattern-matching technique was used to examine the two complementary propositions. Based on the level of standardization and integration present in the acute care chains, the six acute care chains could be divided into two categories of care processes, with the care chains equally distributed among the categories. Failures in communication occurred in both groups. Communication routines were embedded within organizations and descriptions of communication routines in the entire acute care chain could not be found. Based on the results, failures in communication could not exclusively be explained by literature on process typology. Literature on organizational routines was useful to explain the occurrence of communication failures in the acute care chains. Organizational routines can be seen as repetitive action patterns and play an important role in organizations, as most processes are carried out by means of routines. The results of this study imply that it is useful to further explore the role of organizational routines on interprofessional communication in acute care chains to develop a solution for failures in handover practices.