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How technology supports safety rounds

Updated at: 9 March 2022
How technology supports safety rounds

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Healthcare teams perform safety rounds to identify and address problem areas before they pose even bigger risks. Safety round checklists within a comprehensive, digital safety solution are a critical part of these rounds because they help staff stay focused on what matters most. Today’s technology streamlines efforts to manage risks and improve quality, while making healthcare teams as efficient as possible. After all, when it comes to patient safety, every second matters.

You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken. It’s the reason why you see your doctor for an annual physical, test the batteries in your smoke alarms, and check the air in your tires before a long trip. The idea that dormant, unnoticed, or unattended problems can escalate into disastrous situations is the concept behind hospital safety rounds, which are part of a larger strategy to ensure high-quality patient care.

If healthcare teams take the time to observe whether systems and processes worked correctly, they are able to identify these and other red flags of potential accidents and events:

  • Mold under the sinks
  • Do clinical staff wear no-slip shoes?
  • Is fire equipment present and clear of any obstructions?
  • Unlocked doors leading to areas that should be secured
  • Do exit lights work?
  • Are soap and hand lotion dispensers full?
  • Malfunctioning nurse call buttons
  • Do staff understand their role in the event of a hazardous chemical spill?
  • Do they understand proper hand hygiene?
  • Do staff know how to report a near miss or actual event and what happens to the reported information?

It’s easy to overlook details when everyone is focused on providing the best patient care in a busy environment. But organizations need to make the physical environment as safe as possible, at all times. The reason for the effort leads back to this basic concept: Observe, listen, learn, do better. The good news is that technology can enhance the patient safety rounding process, helping organizations take their safety efforts to the next level.

What are safety rounds?

Safety rounds are exactly what they sound like. A safety officer or multi-disciplinary team walks around the hospital to observe processes and engage staff to assess their general knowledge of established safety protocols. And to evaluate the effectiveness of previously implemented activities intended to reduce or eliminate environment of care risks. As part of this evaluation, they usually use a checklist to evaluate performance more efficiently.

This multi-disciplinary team might include:

  • Clinical directors
  • The chief operating officer
  • Human resources representatives
  • Information and communications technology professionals
  • Patient advocates

These rounds, which occur at defined intervals (e.g., every six months in patient-care areas and every 12 months in areas that support direct patient care), are not meant to be punitive in nature. Instead, they’re meant to be educational and to prepare units for regulatory inspection. They also provide staff members with the opportunity to express concerns and receive feedback in a confidential manner. The end goal is to support a proactive approach to minimizing risk while also enabling timely reporting and feedback. Safety rounds strengthen an organization’s commitment to accountability for quality and safety.

Why are safety rounds important?

Safety rounds are important because they help healthcare organizations identify and resolve patient safety concerns. They also help hospitals in the U.S. prepare for and comply with The Joint Commission’s Environment of Care (EC) standards to achieve hospital accreditation. Joint Commission International does not specifically address EC standards, but lists international patient safety goals.

Perhaps most importantly, safety rounds raise awareness of the important role that the physical environment plays in patient safety. This is easy to overlook as staff focuses their efforts on direct patient care. They may not realize that the physical environment can pose risks as well. Safety rounds bring these risks to the forefront—not to play the blame game but to help staff get back on track.

Safety rounds, sometimes referred to as EC rounds, are also important because they help senior managers build relationships and trust with staff. Finally, they demonstrate a visible commitment to patient safety and can be instrumental in developing an open culture in which patient safety is the number one priority.

How can technology improve safety rounds?

Technology can help multi-disciplinary teams perform safety rounds more efficiently and effectively—with the goal of identifying and addressing patient safety risks as quickly as possible.

For example, a mobile workstation negates the need to use cumbersome and time-consuming manual processes during rounds. Instead, organizations can use technology to evaluate performance, input rounding data, and develop immediate action plans—all with the click of a few buttons. Advanced functionalities enable teams to conduct assessments easily. These assessments include questions with explanatory notes, saved draft versions, “parked” questions (i.e., to address later), and a progress overview expressed in terms of percentages. Then, based on the answers, risks are immediately identified and classified.

When the team identifies an issue during rounds, a structured digital event management system makes reporting forms available by computer, tablet, or phone. The system then triggers an automatic workflow to ensure the right people are notified in real-time. If the issue isn’t resolved in a certain time frame, the technology automatically escalates it to a manager or supervisor.

In addition, dashboards help teams understand the risks and clearly show the status of all assessments, as well as the resulting measures. Teams can easily translate the assessment into improvement plans that reflect the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle:

  • PLAN: Look at current activities, develop a plan to improve these activities, and set objectives for this improvement
  • DO: Implement the planned improvement in a controlled setup
  • CHECK: Measure the result of the improvement, compare it with the original situation, and check it against the objectives set
  • ACT: Adjust based on the results obtained at CHECK

This cycle emphasizes that quality improvement should be a continuous process that requires ongoing attention.

Does a checklist improve patient safety?

In short: yes.

Checklists in general are important in healthcare because they reduce human error. This is also true in the aviation industry where checklists have been used successfully for pre-flight clearance, emergency situations, and problem-solving. In his book The Checklist Manifesto, author Atul Gawande, MD, analyzed the positive impact of checklists in healthcare. He wrote, “Good checklists are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything—a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps—the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”

Checklists can greatly improve patient safety because they help the staff who are performing the rounds stay focused on key aspects of the physical environment that affect safety. The checklist provides a list of items that healthcare teams should ask or observe during rounds. In addition to serving as a reminder of high-focus areas, checklists also typically include a specific person assigned to the task, so the team has direct contact information for follow-up, if necessary.

Finally, it may be helpful to organize items on the checklist into categories, such as:

  • Safety
  • Hazardous materials management
  • Life and fire safety
  • Emergency preparedness management
  • Security management
  • Utility management
  • Equipment management
  • Infection control
  • Environmental cleanliness

What happens after a safety round occurs?

After the conclusion of a safety round, information dissemination becomes critical. For example, unit managers may receive an email with the results of the unit’s safety round so they can develop a corrective action plan. Follow-up is also important to determine whether corrective action plans have been implemented and whether additional interventions are necessary.

Safety rounds help organizations proactively identify and mitigate areas of risk, and they’re an important part of establishing a culture of accountability. However, old manual processes simply don’t work in a demanding and dynamic environment. With the help of technology, multi-disciplinary teams can perform these rounds efficiently and effectively to identify and mitigate patient safety risks as quickly as possible.

Learn more about how our software for risk assessments can support your safety rounds.