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7 Best Practices for Hospitals' Training and Development Programs


As healthcare provider shortages loom, hospital and health system training and development programs become increasingly important. Such programs can help retain current employees, improve their skills and positively impact the overall quality of a health system — something that is increasingly important in a value-based world.

Yet, training and development initiatives aren’t often a top concern for health system leaders. This, of course, is not surprising given that leaders are faced with more pressing issues, such as reimbursement, compliance, clinical quality and beyond. However, training and development is an important area that leaders should assess often.

Donnetta Horseman, corporate responsibility officer for CaroMont Health in Gastonia, N.C., oversees the health system’s compliance training and development initiatives, along with Cynthia Machuga, the system’s educational services coordinator. Together, the two oversee the delivery of system-wide training programs.

The health system offers thousands of training courses each year — both mandatory (such as those for compliance, privacy, clinical skill development, etc.) and optional, by role. Examples of optional trainings include continuing medical education and leadership development opportunities. Overseeing thousands of trainings each year can be a daunting task; however, Ms. Horseman and Ms. Machuga say there are a few best practices that can help ensure any given training program meets its goals without overextending a health system’s resources.

1. Create training programs for different learning styles. Training programs should include material that appeals to various learning styles: verbal, visual, hands-on, etc.

“You have to be willing to use a variety of different teaching methods,” says Ms. Machuga.

Training programs also need to reflect the multilingual employee population in so many hospitals today. “We often make the generalization that if this is in English and it is simple enough then everyone’s going to get it, and that may not be the case,” notes Ms. Horseman. “You need to ensure all of your different employees in their different roles — from the housekeeper to facility worker all the way through the CEO — can comprehend the information.”

2. Make programs interactive. Group work, quizzes and other activities can help make training programs less lecture-based and more interactive — something that not only helps employees retain information but also makes the training more enjoyable for them.
“You have to make it as interactive as possible; the more involved [employees] are, the more they retain,” explains Ms. Horseman.

3. Embrace computer-based training modules. While certain types of trainings may be better suited for face-to-face training, many others can be completed online. Computer-based training modules are often more convenient for employees as they can be completed from various locations, at different paces and at times that work within an employee’s schedule, says Ms. Machuga.

Ms. Horseman adds that computer-based trainings also help CaroMont deliver consistent training and allow administration to track that each employee has completed a training module — something that is especially important for mandatory trainings around compliance and privacy issues. Additionally, using computer-based modules developed by third parties are less resource intensive than developing them in-house. While CaroMont actually prefers to develop its own modules because doing so is less costly, when trainings need to be developed and rolled out quickly, using a third-party product can be advantageous, says Ms. Horseman.

When using computer-based trainings, it is important to prepare for some technical difficulties. “If you can, have the IT department involved early on in the process, even in planning, to make sure what you’re looking at purchasing will work with your hardware and system,” advises Ms. Machuga.

4. Personalize information so it is specific to your hospital or health system. Another reason CaroMont often develops its own training programs is because, in addition to being cost efficient, information within the training can be specific to CaroMont’s facilities and procedures.

If using a third-party module, Ms. Horseman recommends selecting one that allows for some personalization. “Pre-packaged [modules] are a little more generic,” she explains. However, when CaroMont selected a third-party module for compliance training, it chose one that allowed the system to add its own documents, policies and procedures. “It made us feel like we were still able to have training very specific to our organization without having to spend as much time developing content,” she adds.

5. Ensure training reflects changing skills. Hospital training programs have always covered issues such as compliance and clinical competency, but increasingly hospitals are developing programs around newly sought-after skills, such as customer service and patient-centered care.

“What we’ve seen more than anything else because of value-based healthcare is that we’re putting more focus on the patient experience and balancing it with quality and cost,” says Ms. Machuga. “We’ve always covered customer service in orientation, but it’s certainly more in depth than before. As the patient experience plays more into our reimbursement, we have to get across to staff what this means and how the employee can impact it.”

6. Consider employee demands beyond training. Employees at hospitals have multiple responsibilities, and training should be designed so that it can be completed without taking away from those responsibilities.

“One of the things that makes healthcare unique is a large part of our employees are nurses or physicians who are caring for patients,” says Ms. Horseman. “We really need to make sure we’re putting together training that is effective for them. Not everyone is at a desk, so training they can do between daily activity is ideal.”

7. Evaluate the effectiveness of training programs. Finally, hospitals should always assess the effectiveness of their training programs through surveys and testing of skills. After all, a training program that doesn’t effectively improve some skill or competency is a waste of health system resources and employees’ time.

“Did you achieve what you were trying to achieve, and if not, what do you need to do from that point on?” asks Ms. Machuga.