What is a safety huddle? It is a short meeting at the start of each workday in a clinical setting. The purpose of a Huddle is to discuss critical safety events, manage quality within the organization and relay information surrounding patient care.
Why are huddles important? A Safety Huddle empowers healthcare facilities to increase awareness around important patient safety challenges and foster a culture of learning.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, safety huddles have never been more relevant in supporting the success of an organization’s safety measures.
Whether you have an established safety huddles program or you’re introducing one for the first time here are five ways to evolve your huddles: establish a routine, build the right team, create consistent structure, streamline with an electronic solution and share results.
Discuss, Rally and Refocus with Safety Huddles
The Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) describes a Safety Huddle as a, “short, stand-up meeting — 10 minutes or less — that is typically used at the start of each workday in a clinical setting.” The goal of a huddle is to discuss critical safety events to proactively address patient safety and quality within the organization. During a huddle, teams discuss a variety of issues involving patient care, equipment, inventory and other general concerns. This is also a time for team members to rally around or refocus on an item, initiative, program or safety focus area. The topics covered during a huddle impact nearly every department in an organization, so team members from a variety of departments should attend huddles to gather insight and share input from their unique perspective. With COVID-19 continuing to present unique challenges for healthcare organizations, streamlined communication between teams has become especially relevant. As healthcare organizations navigate these challenges, it is increasingly important for leadership to adopt tools that drive effective communication.
With COVID-19 continuing to present unique challenges for healthcare organizations, streamlined communication between teams has become especially relevant. As healthcare organizations navigate these challenges, it is increasingly important for leadership to adopt tools that drive effective communication.
Improving patient safety efforts in just 15 minutes
Safety huddles take just a few minutes at the beginning of a day or shift, yet play a crucial role in a healthcare organization’s quality, patient safety and risk management initiatives. Introducing safety huddles empowers healthcare facilities to increase awareness around important patient safety related concerns.
As the world is facing a global health crisis, huddles have become even more relevant for organizations in their efforts to help ensure COVID-19 safety measures. Whether you recently introduced a huddle program or have been running one for a while, here are five ways to evolve your program efforts to communicate patient safety priorities more efficiently:
Build the right team
Every initiative’s success starts with having a strong team and support from leadership. Buy-in starts with garnering trust, inclusivity and open discussion among team members. When looking at the composition of your team huddles, evaluate what members from different departments would be valuable to include. Strive to include people whose engagement will yield valuable results and provide relevant insights.
It is best practice to include a member of the leadership team in each huddle. When you encourage involvement from all aspects of organizational hierarchy, it not only creates space for varying opinions, it shows the investment and support from leadership. This is also an opportunity to identify executive leadership champions–– individuals who are particularly aligned with and invested in patient safety and seeing a huddle program succeed.
When you encourage involvement from all aspects of organizational hierarchy, it not only creates space for varying opinions, it shows the investment and support from leadership.
Hairmyres Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland, calls their safety huddle, “The Onion.” The hospital’s weekly huddles include representation from different clinical areas including members from wards, the radiology department and outpatient departments, comprising a total of 20-40 huddle members. A well-rounded huddle will ultimately encourage front-line staff to voice their concerns directly, establishing trust across teams.
At St. Christopher’s Hospital (SCHC) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the organization initially implemented a nursing huddle but then learned the benefits of an organization-wide huddle and transitioned to a safety huddle. Before implementing a safety huddle program, the organization dealt with siloed departments that resulted in minimal sharing of patient safety events or concerns. After introducing the nursing huddle, leadership realized the benefits of broader huddles would include the opportunity for sharing ideas and resources to solve problems and prevent future problems from occurring. Since implementing safety huddles at SCHC, the program has been recognized as a best practice in the health system. A significant improvement was also found in the organization’s Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) Patient Safety Culture Survey. The results indicated an 8 percent increase in the statement: We are informed about errors that happen in this unit.
Every huddle requires a facilitator, a role that serves to set the tone for huddles and establish an example for how teams can build a routine for future huddles. Facilitators are responsible for ensuring that invitations are sent out to the correct invitees, quality initiatives are aligning with day-to-day work and information is recorded and properly distributed following the huddle. In the absence of an electronic tool, the huddle facilitator’s role can become time consuming and difficult to manage.
Safety huddles take place in a short amount of time, so Huddle Facilitators need to quickly and efficiently record notes in the system as they receive updates. RL6:SafetyHuddles submission interface allows users to seamlessly capture and enter notes into the system through its Quick Submission feature by simply tabbing between fields to enter information.
RL6:SafetyHuddles allows for huddle facilitators to easily inform invitees that they have been selected to participate. Once a huddle has been completed, facilitators can quickly and easily distribute meeting minutes to those who attended. Depending on your organization’s current needs, safety huddles can be scheduled daily, weekly or ad-hoc. Safety Huddle sponsors, typically members of leadership, risk and quality teams, have the option to receive regular reports including meeting minutes or review statistics around huddle attendance and engagement.
Create consistency for stronger engagement
Meetings are most successful when a structure is put in place and members demonstrate consistent engagement over time. In practice, this looks like encouraging all invitees to attend. Full participation ensures that your huddles are consistent in ownership, leadership and message. If you’re starting a huddle system for the first time, communicate that feedback is an important part of the initial huddles. If your organization already uses huddles, emphasize the importance of attendees conveying their feedback. Gathering their input will allow your huddles to continuously evolve and improve.
When Helen Mackie, MD, Chief of Medical Services at Hairmyres Hospital was asked why the hospital’s huddles have been successful, her answer was simple: consistency. In addition to having full support from staff, Mackie also pointed to the consistency of ownership, leadership and message as factors that set the organization’s huddles up for success.
Attendance is a key part of making safety huddles successful. When everyone arrives prepared to contribute, the group is better positioned to collaborate and leave the huddle with actionable takeaways.
Attendance is a key part of making safety huddles successful. When everyone arrives prepared to contribute, the group is better positioned to collaborate and leave the huddle with actionable takeaways. Some staff might be more hesitant to speak up, so it is important to encourage attendees to share their experiences and insights. Having input from each participant will empower the whole group to have a productive dialogue.
To help with seamless reminders and communication with staff, the RL6:SafetyHuddles module allows huddle facilitators to send an invitation to all huddle invitees. The invitation includes meeting information for staff to know in advance and can be directly added to their schedule from the email.
Establish a routine
Starting your huddle with an established agenda or a checklist of items to address helps keep participants on track. Whether you’re covering events from the past 24 hours or an outstanding item, it’s important to have a structure in place to make your huddles efficient. A successful huddle outlines clear steps on what will be discussed with attendees during the huddle.
At the end of their 2013 quarter, SCHC reported that 148 out of 447 events reported did not reach the patient. By the end of 2014, the organization reported that 364 out of 659 events reported did not reach the patient, marking an improvement from 33 to 55 percent in one year. The more routine your safety huddles become, the more integrated they will be with your organizational goals and roles, promoting tangible, positive system changes.
Using RL6:SafetyHuddles promotes routine in how its submission forms are structured. The tool features an outlined format that includes fields such as an agenda, a safety focus area, announcements and a safety story/moment. These fields help guide the meeting and ensure that all relevant topics are covered.
Using RL6:SafetyHuddles promotes routine in how its submission forms are structured. The tool features an outlined format that includes fields such as an agenda, a safety focus area, announcements and a safety story/moment. These fields help guide the meeting and ensure that all relevant topics are covered. All facilitators can review a huddle recap, next steps, attendance, notes and linked incidents.
Streamline the process with an electronic solution
The use of paper or a local Excel sheet to facilitate safety huddles leaves room for critical information to fall through the cracks. Without an automated system, huddle information is not stored on a centralized system, making it difficult to share between team members. The purpose of safety huddles is to make issues, concerns and successes easier to communicate to the whole team. An electronic system allows huddle facilitators and leadership to quickly access information and streamlines the process of setting up huddles and collecting feedback to improve future meetings.
RL6:SafetyHuddles replaces generic meeting and tasking tools with a digital tool that supports a hospital’s quality improvement efforts by recording notes, concerns and follow-up pending actions in a centrally stored and easily accessible location.
RL6:SafetyHuddles replaces generic meeting and tasking tools with a digital tool that supports a hospital’s quality improvement efforts by recording notes, concerns and follow-up pending actions in a centrally stored and easily accessible location. This allows leadership to ensure that follow-up actions are recorded and completed by the indicated deadline. An electronic system also empowers leadership to track the success of safety huddles by providing data on attendance by required participants.
An important part of introducing or maintaining a safety initiative is an organization’s ability to share its results and progress. Once huddle information is recorded, teams need a way to identify patterns or trends. Based on the data collected, leadership can institute a new policy or remove a barrier that is inhibiting team members from accessing support items or completing frequent requests. A safety huddles reporting system should also provide insights on any trends in patient safety concerns or issues.
The Situation Awareness For Everyone (SAFE) program was created to introduce and evaluate the implementation of safety huddles across England. A qualitative study conducted between 2014 and 2016 interviewed 76 staff members across 4 different NHS pediatric wards and aimed to better understand huddle benefits and challenges. Some staff indicated that huddles served as a way to regularly remind staff members to share important information that otherwise would have fallen through the cracks. Following huddles, staff members also described feeling more prepared to deal with potential adverse events and formulate an effective structure for a particular shift or individual patients.
RL6:SafetyHuddles includes several reports to better help teams understand the information collected during huddles. Leadership can pull an attendee list report that captures missed huddles by invitees, allowing them to address these instances and identify if there are ways to better support team members. It is also possible to run a report that identifies huddle members who have received recognition from their peers, allowing leadership to personally follow-up with them and thank them for their contributions.
Reporting in RL6:SafetyHuddles also includes functionality for team members to indicate specific patients that should be monitored, if there are any existing concerns. Having access to valuable huddle insights allows the whole team to understand how the huddles are evolving and impacting the organization’s overall safety efforts.
Safety huddles look different for every team and organization. While some will need only 10 minutes for a huddle at the start of a shift, others might need a longer amount of time to cover more topics. Agendas will vary depending on the unit and current issues that need to be addressed. No recipe or formula exists for how a huddle should be structured and what should be covered during a huddle. The common thread that runs through all safety huddles is their purpose: to provide a designated space and time for team members to communicate information that will ultimately better the function of the team and the organization’s safety efforts. As healthcare organizations continue to navigate current and future challenges brought on by COVID-19, implementing tools to promote communication can help improve organizational communication and drive safer, better care.