The Importance of Healthcare Staff Education (Especially During a Crisis)

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By Bent Philipson

Healthcare staff education can literally be a life-saver, but it’s an initiative that often gets far less attention than it deserves. Unfortunately that lack of education is to the entire industry’s detriment: preventable medical errors are now a serious public health problem in the United States and contribute substantially to rising healthcare costs, among other issues.

Is it any wonder, really? Medical advancements, technologies and guidelines change at a rapid pace and can significantly alter the way care is provided. If healthcare workers are not in the loop and trained sufficiently, how can we expect them to adapt to a changing landscape and provide the most effective care?

The impact of COVID-19 over the last few months has made the importance of ongoing education abundantly clear. The crisis has completely upended the way healthcare workers have traditionally taken action to prevent themselves against the spread of disease. The National Institute of Health recently launched a website with critical educational resources in an effort to promote training programs to protect high-risk employees. With limited PPE available to healthcare workers, they’re learning to adjust with what’s available to them while still preserving their safety.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities across the world are having to take additional precautionary measures to ensure that staff and patients remain safe. Our network of skilled nursing facilities is no different; we’ve had to follow recommendations from the NY State Department of Health and the CDC and implement changes like requiring staff to wear facemasks at all times, asking our residents to remain in their rooms, and adjusting staff schedules to minimize the risk of exposure. 

Every day is a balancing act for healthcare staff. Their performance, especially during a crisis, is heavily influenced by the structure of the organization’s internal staff education program. Everything from formal orientation to the maintenance of professional skills to their career development is directly tied to their success, but it’s also linked to the proficiency of the organization as a whole. 

When you prioritize education, there are a number of payoffs you’ll see trickle throughout your entire operations. Here are a few of them.

A lower turnover rate

Employee retention is one of the biggest issues currently facing the healthcare sector, especially as we continue to feel the impacts of COVID-19. While the rest of the world is under quarantine, healthcare workers are still manning the frontlines of this pandemic. But underneath the calm, focused demeanor they put on while they’re at work, they are experiencing higher levels of depression and anxiety.

Working in healthcare is a tough job. That should go without saying, but it bears repeating. Rewarding though it may be, it’s easy to become burnt out, especially in today’s climate. Healthcare workers are working long hours and, just like their patients, they’re worried about their own health. Many have chosen to socially distant themselves from their family.

If you want to keep your employees, show them you care by investing in their professional development. Hiring competent people and paying them a competitive salary simply isn’t enough. You also need to show a sense of dedication to your company culture, staff retention programs, and of course, ongoing education. If your employees aren’t finding that at your organization, they may seek it out with one of your competitors. 

Creating a positive environment

An organization that prioritizes ongoing education generates a positive, motivated, and energetic workforce. How you continue to mold your company culture during a pandemic looks a bit different, but it’s even more critical now — you just have to get creative. 

Some facilities, when possible, are encouraging their staff to conduct more televisits. You have technology at your disposal, so are you taking full advantage? Train your employees on how to utilize videos and online chat tools to safely interact with patients. Employees want to feel empowered to do their jobs as best they can. That means training them on how to leverage what’s available to them so they can continue providing the best care to their patients while still complying with policies and safety protocols.

This isn’t only felt by staff, either; this translates to patients and residents as well. Compassion matters when it comes to the patient experience. By prioritizing your employees’ professional and personal development, you create an environment that’s welcoming, calming and cheerful. As a patient, wouldn’t you rather your medical provider have that kind of bedside manner instead of the alternative? 

More efficient operations

You can’t have more efficient operations without proper training. If your training structure isn’t sound from day one, you already risk losing the talent you just hired. To return to the point about employee turnover for a moment, not having a good orientation program is cited as one of the top ten reasons why caregivers leave their agencies. Decreasing your turnover rate eliminates the rapid-fire cycle of hiring, acclimating, and training new employees. 

If you’re an innovative facility that’s focused on serving as much of your community as possible, your staff needs to be equipped to handle the constant changes in regulations, policy, and technology. An organization in Boston, for example, started using artificial intelligence and set up a hotline where they could separate patients with less serious symptoms from the small subset of patients that are higher-risk. Of course, that implementation doesn’t happen on its own. Employees had to be trained on how to interact with the new AI software, as well as how to transfer patients to the correct virtual care center or hospital.

When people’s lives are on the line, staff education is no joke. Healthcare workers need to understand how to provide the best care to their patients, whether or not we’re in a crisis. 

The challenges we face today with the global pandemic are more pressing than nearly anything else that has come before. The future is uncertain; the circumstances are complex and stressful. Your healthcare workers are brave and motivated enough to face these challenges daily and ensure that their communities stay healthy and strong. The least we can do is invest in their education and ensure that they have the tools and resources they need to face the future with certainty.

Bent Philipson is a healthcare entrepreneur with over three decades of experience providing high-quality nursing and rehabilitation care to those who need it most. As the founder of Philosophy Care, Bent Philipson oversees one of the leading networks of skilled nursing facilities located throughout New York and New Jersey. Under Philipson’s leadership, Philosophy Care offers individualized, value-based care devoted to the physical and emotional wellbeing of its residents. 

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