A new paper out of Rice University in Houston, Texas says, when implemented correctly, health care team training can reduce patient mortality by 13 percent.

"Transforming Health Care One Team at a Time: Ten Observations and the Trail Ahead" outlines existing evidence and theory on the science behind developing health care teams and how training improves outcomes for patients. The author, Eduardo Salas, the Allyn R. and Gladys M. Cline Chair of Psychology in Rice's School of Social Sciences, explains why team training is a critical part of medical care: "When training is implemented correctly, the result is improved outcomes across the board, both for patients and employees."

According to the paper, team training should incorporate considerations such as on-the-job skill building and simulations; leadership shared across members of a medical team; an environment that protects the psychological safety of team members (through showing others respect, active listening and encouraging others to speak up); debriefing on job situations; and measurement of outcomes for later assessment.

In addition to reducing patient mortality, Salas said, health care team training also:

  • Increased employee learning by 29 percent, skill-based transfer by 26 percent and patient satisfaction by 13 percent.
  • Improved reaction times to patient needs by 18 percent, teamwork performance by 17 percent, clinical task performance by 32 percent, and safety climate for both patients and employees by 11 percent.
  • Decreased medical errors by 18 percent and length of stay in a unit other than intensive-care by six percent.
These results were based on 129 prior studies (with 23,018 total participants) conducted between 2013 and 2017. Participants included health care providers (physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, etc.), allied health care personnel (nurses and therapists), healthcare staff (unit clerks) and healthcare students (medical students, nursing students, etc.) and came from facilities ranging from small clinics to large hospitals in the U.S. and abroad.

Despite these advances, gaps in understanding persist in many of the areas and challenges remain in applying the science to practice, says Salas, who is also a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology. He said healthcare organizations should focus on the following areas:

  • Sustaining and understanding unique organizational conditions that impact training.
  • Understanding multiteam systems (i.e., health care professionals from multiple departments working together) and creating a climate for teamwork.
  • Exploring alternative ways to implement training, incorporate more robust performance measurement and foster multidisciplinary collaboration to better improve patient outcomes.
The paper will appear in an upcoming edition of Group and Organization Management.