Communication: A Vital Utility
Communication can be defined simply as the sharing of information. Even more broadly, communication can be distilled down to the act of a sender producing the content of a message in any of the many forms available to us, to then transfer this information from one entity to another at varying speeds. A receiver intercepts the incoming message, then proceeds to decode the content into terms that are easy to comprehend, and that reduces the chances of error. In healthcare, error is evaded at all costs as the consequences can be catastrophic, and in some instances, permanent. That is why so much effort is put forth to ensure that the means of communication is operating at peak effectiveness at all levels and why simply communicating with one another is not as straightforward as it may seem. How we communicate with one another in practice is largely based on the mode by which information is transferred from one provider to the next. Even more, the logistics of the message, that is, the organization of the content, word choice, and use of clinical terms is also seen as paramount to the productiveness of communication.
“Huddle” is one of the numerous communication strategies that is recommended by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Department of Defense (DoD) in response to a publication from 1999 titled, To Err is Human, which presented what seemed to be an inconceivable figure of annual mortality rates due to medical errors. This figure presented an astonishing 98,000 deaths annually due to what is defined as failure to do what was intended or failure to implement the correct plan to accomplish a common goal. Among the contributory factors, failure of communication, however defined, was implicated in this avoidable reality.
An entire curriculum had been created in response to these issues as existing team-based training programs lack sufficient evidence in regards to their effectiveness, and were not designed to retrofit or conceive new programs based on their existing architecture. At some point between 2001 & 2003, AHRQ and DoD almost decided to base their program on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) circular for airworthiness for commercial and private aviation. However, this was scrapped and TeamSTEPPS was created. TeamSTEPPS is an acronym that reads; Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety. It is a curriculum aimed at practice investigators and those at the institutional level to implement, to, well, strategize the team approach and to streamline the care process, while improving upon patient safety. This U.S based program is making its way to Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Patient Safety Institute.
So, whichever preconceived notions you had regarding the utility of a.m team huddle, as you can see, there is a reason for it, and more importantly, there are people who see a larger vision over the horizon- as you should too. Team huddle is just one of many interventions aimed at improving communication. (See pocket guide).
What Does “Huddle” Mean?
Team huddle is an event that typically takes place at routinely scheduled times on a daily basis and involves relevant members of the care team. It is a meeting that tends to take place early on in the day and lasts for about 10-20 minutes. The goal of team huddle is to communicate pertinent information regarding patient care as well as unit and hospital operation. It is a tool used to facilitate communication between team members face to face, in an open forum, usually at or near the nurses station. Similar to a town hall event, participants are there to listen and share without fear of judgment or being penalized for holding a certain opinion or thought.
Team huddle gives team members the opportunity to adapt their workflow for the day and prioritize patient and unit needs. Members of the team are given the opportunity to communicate information that brings necessary parties to the forefront of an imminent problem or concern, and in turn, contribute to the formation of a timely solution. Typically those involved in huddle include front line providers, management, unit attendees, clerical staff, and any one of the many other important stakeholders involved in patient care. However, this does vary on an institutional basis.
Team huddle can be seen as a preventative strategy that allows the unit to run smoothly and efficiently. Time can then be spent focusing on quality patient care, instead of putting out fires that could have been prevented. Huddle should be held at the right time, at the right place, and with the right people.
Why Are Team Huddles Effective?
Team huddles provide a forum in which open discussion can take place regarding patient care. Topics that are typically discussed include goals for the day, patients to be discharged or transferred, patient-specific care plans such as falls prevention, unit census, workload/assignments, etc. Discussing patient care using prioritization hierarchies and anticipating patient needs allows front line staff to plan out their day right from the get-go. This allows the team to be efficient, flexible, and adaptive for when the high volumes, heavy workloads, and admission/discharges begin to consume the day.
And of equal importance, huddle provides the opportunity to connect leaders with front line staff and to bring awareness to safety and quality control concerns from both ends.
“Plan to Prioritize and Prioritize with a Plan”
Huddles are most engaging when they are structured, but brief, and perceived as valuable. This fosters engagement from members of the team, and hopefully over time, becomes a staple within the units practice culture. Having everyone on the same page in such a fast-paced and high acuity environment is paramount. This can only be accomplished through effective communication and joint effort among those involved.
Going Forward …
What may seem like a sacrifice of your time may actually be a time-saver in the long run. I guarantee that no one in healthcare has ever said “too much information is bad” or “less information is more”. I am certain that having the opportunity to mention that the confused 90yr old in room 424 (1) is known to bed exit and does not yet have a plan in place to prevent falls, will surely save you more time in the long run. Because post-fall orders, calling family, charting, speaking to the multidisciplinary team, and dealing with avoidable injury would suck more time out of your day than spending 10 minutes attending huddle. Bar none. And of course, the care we work so desperately hard to hold to the highest standard would be flagged as preventable if appropriate intervention had been taken. We certainly do not want that for our patients. Nor do we want to foster a culture in which we become complacent with being “reactive” as opposed to “proactive” towards our day to day efforts.