Tips for building a better patient safety training program

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Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the introduction of Ready, Set, Patient Safety, Second Edition, which is now available from HCPro, Inc. The excerpt offers tips on effective developing staff training. To order, visit

Creating a patient safety training plan

Educators tell us that information should be presented in at least three ways to reach everyone and make it stick. First, consider all possibilities. Then create your own plan with the help of our suggestions and examples, which can be tailored to suit your organization’s culture and your audience. The following tips may help to get your creative planning juices flowing:

1. Review the action plan and identify compliance issues that will require some level of education. List target groups for each topic. This will give you an idea of the extent of your challenge.

2. Ask organizational development/senior management staff or other staff to list the educational approaches that have been most successful in your organization. This will be especially helpful if you are new to the organization or to your position.

3. Ask survey managers and staff what will help them learn.

4. Include all departments—including all off-site services—in training program planning and implementation. This will be a challenge in complex organizations, but it’s important to remember that off-site services must be as prepared as the services on campus.

5. Before you get too involved in the preparation plan, verify the budget that will be available for purchase of training materials, for incentives, or for use of outside educators.

6. Be realistic about the time commitment managers and staff will need to make. Review the other projects that will be competing for time during the period of patient safety training. Meet with the CEO, chief operating officer (COO), and other executives to gain their support for your training plan.

7. Enlist the assistance of the marketing or public relations department in preparing a publicity campaign focused on patient safety.

8. Include graded quizzes or tests for at least some of the preparation activities to emphasize that it’s important to know the information presented. Give awards or prizes for good scores.

9. If possible, form an advisory team of some of the talented educators in your organization. This group will make a great sounding board for your ideas. They can also be champions for patient safety within the facility.

10. Make teamwork a part of training activities whenever possible. This will help reinforce the teamwork required to provide care and services throughout your organization and should have a positive effect on your survey results.

Tips for successful training activities

As with planning any training activity, begin by defining the desired outcome. Then, consider your audience and the best approach for achieving the expected result for that particular group.

You may want to map out which topics need to be presented to which audiences, which approach is planned for the intended audience, and how the information relates to patient safety. Dividing the information and putting it down on paper will have the following two benefits:

1. You can keep better track of all the events you need to schedule

2. You will be able to communicate to others the amount and scope of training that needs to be accomplished

Consider these additional strategies for success

1. Enlist leadership support. All of your patient safety activities will have a greater degree of success if they have the enthusiastic endorsement of the key leaders in your organization. At a minimum, the CEO, COO, nursing executive, and president of the medical staff/medical director should voice support and emphasize the importance of attending training sessions.

To gain their support, be sensitive to their time constraints when planning sessions for them and their staff. For example, meet with nursing leadership when planning training for their staff. You may be able to coordinate your plans with their continuing education plans. For example, if they plan a restraint refresher course for core competency, you may be able to review it and make sure that all required elements are included. Or you may assist with the evaluation tool so that you have the feedback you need. Meet with medical staff leadership to identify the best approach and most realistic schedule for physician training.

Be flexible in scheduling the training for leadership. Staff leaders have little free time, so do what is best for them, even if it means changing your own schedule. On the other hand, these people learn quickly and will not need much time to grasp important concepts. Try to get Joint Commission survey preparation on their regular agenda(s); this will enable you to give them updates on the progress in survey prep and provide them with important information they will need for survey. Most leaders will appreciate your willingness to be considerate of their busy schedules. In addition, ask them to set aside time to rehearse the leadership interview; this is one activity that you can’t fast-track.

Also ask these leaders to be present for at least some of the training sessions that include their staff. It sends a powerful message about the importance of patient safety training when the leaders participate.

2. Build rewards into the training plan. Even simple rewards can generate interest and enthusiasm in something as dry as patient safety. Many organizations have found that employees who otherwise may not be motivated to participate in a training session may actually become promoters of the activity if you offer something such as free movie passes to five employees drawn from all those who receive 100% on a posttest. Rewarding a shy, quiet employee can give that person the confidence he or she needs to answer a surveyor’s questions. Re-warding an unwilling participant may make it possible to gain that employee’s support for the next activity.

3. Build friendly competition into the process. The element of interdepartmental competition can be coupled with the reward program. Departments can vie for greatest level of participation in required training programs.

Alternatively, scores can be tabulated and ranked with department prizes given for the top five departments. This is a great way to use our natural tendency to compete to your best advantage.

4. Keep staff in the loop about your training schedules. Participation levels will be much higher if you notify managers, supervisors, and staff well in advance of the training dates and times.

This will allow managers and supervisors to plan coverage and will also ensure that everyone who needs to attend a session will be free to do so. Use all communication tools available, such as posters, newsletters, e-mail messages, memos, staff meetings, bulletin boards, and voicemail.

5. Stress improving patient care rather than compliance with regulations. Some employees tend to balk when told that they have to do something for The Joint Commission survey. You will probably have much more success if you focus on what we all need to do to ensure that safe, appropriate, and effective care is delivered to every patient. If you train employees in fire safety or moderate sedation, the key points you want to impart are the actions that contribute to the best outcome (e.g., if there’s a fire, we want to be sure that patients and staff exit safely. If we administer moderate sedation, we want to be sure that the patient suffers no untoward effects). The fact that The Joint Commission has the same requirements as your organization is simply because its standards reflect acceptable current practice in healthcare organizations.

6. Support ongoing training and performance improvement. Constant survey readiness and patient safety knowledge are the goals of any organization. Ideally, ongoing training and performance improvement are in place to ensure this, so you’re not playing catchup in the months prior to survey. Whatever you can do in your organization to support a program of constant readiness will help the organization have a successful survey.

7. Evaluate and reevaluate your training activities. It is important for you to evaluate your training activities for effectiveness. In any areas in which employees did poorly, consider other strategies for moving them up to an acceptable level of performance in time for the survey.

Consider developing assessment tools, such as quizzes, to provide the necessary feedback. Ask staff for suggestions of ways to make the training more effective, especially if you identify a particular problem area. Share the results of the training programs with managers and supervisors, and ask them for suggestions. They know their staff and may have insight into other ways to make the training more meaningful.

You may wish to develop a tracking sheet to summarize the outcome of the training activities. This would be very helpful in determining which approaches should be used in the future or which could be used with minor revamping.