At the core of any medical establishment is the patient. Therefore, everyone in the business needs to be seeking to find ways on an ongoing basis to improve the care that they offer to each and every patient. Sometimes, with the best will in the world, things do go wrong, and understanding the fundamental nature of these problems is a key challenge to putting in place processes that will avoid their recurrence in future. But what other steps can be taken to improve patient care?
1. Providing Support for Staff
Several investigations into failing healthcare institutions in recent years have highlighted one particular area that all medical institutions could improve upon – supporting their staff. Health care professionals are under immense pressure and work with an awkward system that often feels like it is designed to make their work harder, rather than easier.
They also see people at their most vulnerable and therefore, potentially, prone to irrational emotional responses – suffering from ill health, concerned for the wellbeing of their loved ones, confused and frightened.
It is clear that adequate support for staff is key to improving patient care. Sickness rates and stress levels are higher in medical professions than in many other industry sectors, and staff risk burning out from the incessant pressure. While this doesn’t account for all the issues experienced by some failing institutions, it does highlight a general problem that can easily be addressed and with profoundly positive results if it is managed in the right way, with skill and compassion.
Therefore, offering staff better than adequate support should be one of the top priorities of any institution. As well as providing help, it is also important to give staff outlets to express their concerns. One example of how to do this is through the formation of a multi-disciplinary team, whose objective is to look at each case and to draw conclusions that are likely to offer a well-rounded viewpoint.
2. Continuous Development of Staff
With busy schedules and difficult workloads, staff development can sometimes be sidelined, but studies have shown that the continuous development of staff has a positive outcome on patient care levels.
One example comes from the Yorkshire & Humber Improvement Academy and their Reducing Hospital Falls programme. This programme was designed to help frontline hospital staff to reduce the number of patient falls. The programme has yielded impressive results and shown a substantial return on investment in terms of preventing such accidents and changing the mindset of staff towards such incidents.
3. Training Staff to deal with Incident Investigation
Incidents are part of daily life in a medical institution, but the importance placed on their investigation can vary. By trying to ignore a problem, this often leads to its escalation over a period of time, alongside an inherent feeling from staff that they knew such an issue existed, but that there was no system in place to deal with it.
Training staff to deliver an incident investigation is key to improving patient care, by helping them to spot potential incidents before they happen, or by following an established process to learn from those that have taken place. Root cause analysis is one of the best ways that institutions can assess what has happened, and the changes that need to be made to reduce the likelihood of its reoccurrence.
To perform an effective and comprehensive root cause analysis investigation, staff require the correct training. While not everyone needs to be trained, it is important that there are the right people within every institution who are able to carry out the work, and to provide a clearly defined outcome that all staff can learn from.
4. Involving Patients and their Families in Decision-Making
Involving patients and their families in the decision-making process has been shown to be a key step towards improving patient care. No one likes to feel excluded or confused about their situation, especially when it affects their health, or the health of a loved one.
When staff include patients as much as possible with the diagnosis possibilities, and review all treatment options with them, this feeling of being excluded from the process is clearly removed, to be replaced with a more trusting relationship which benefits all parties concerned.
The Shared Decision Making system instituted by the NHS is a perfect example of this, working through patient questions to provide them with the information they need. They can then make a more informed decision about how to proceed, and they tend to feel that they are in control of their treatment by going through this process, rather than simply being a passenger along for a ride, without a voice in the matter.
Finding the time to go through this process might seem impossible to staff, who are constantly run off their feet, but the fact is that time invested up-front is always saved down the line, and it will ensure also that a happier staff-patient-family member relationship is established from the word go, based upon a foundation of knowledge, input and trust.