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August 2019

Evolving Education: The Value of Investing in Employee Education
By JoAnn W. Klinedinst, MEd, CPHIMS, PMP, DES, FHIMSS, FACHE
For The Record
Vol. 31 No. 7 P. 6

In many industries, employee access to continuing education and professional development opportunities is considered an amenity or benefit. In health care, these should be viewed as the standard. However, a focus on continuous education, training, and professional development is often neglected.

Commitment to lifelong learning is critical for health care professionals—in fact, lives depend on the education and knowledge that enable efficient care delivery. Whether you work directly with patients or not, every role in a health system drives improvement. Those who are committed to saving lives need to know how to use every item in their toolbox in order to do so.

But what we’re finding is that these tools and systems are often complex, flawed, and unintuitive to the user. When you take into account the fact that a significant part of the current health care workforce entered the industry before the advent of the EHR, it’s understandable why many professionals may be struggling to adapt.

In keeping up with a fast-paced, dynamic, and constantly changing health care climate, education isn’t just a tool in the toolbox—it’s the whole toolbox. It’s what allows the efficient transfer of information and technology so these tools can be applied effectively.

Preventing Threats to Patient Safety
In 2016, Johns Hopkins patient safety experts found that more than 250,000 deaths annually could be attributed to medical errors, which surpassed respiratory disease as the third-leading cause of death. In addition to putting patients at risk, incidences of medical error or oversights in care can create irreversible damage to the reputations of both individuals and organizations.

That’s why proper education and training and focusing on professional development is vital not only in the use and application of health information systems but also in learning how to respond to crises. By arming employees with knowledge, they can learn how to prevent incidents and respond efficiently without the fear of retribution that often leads to a failure to report.

Additionally, ensuring that an organization as a whole adheres to best practices in privacy and security is vital to the maintenance of health information systems. The 2019 HIMSS Cybersecurity Survey revealed that more than one-half of the respondents were still using legacy systems. The use of outdated systems and technology greatly increases the risk of falling victim to a security breach.

Another important finding in the survey was that at least 20% of security incidents can be attributed to negligent insiders, another example of employees making preventable errors, often due to a lack of adequate training or education.

Striving for a Culture of Continuous Improvement
In 2016, The Advisory Board Company conducted studies that revealed that 20% of all hospital employees were either disengaged from or ambivalent about their work; only 38% of disengaged employees were reported as displaying caring attitudes toward patients.

With patient satisfaction and Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores tied directly to revenue, engaged employees are essential in creating a culture of continuous improvement.

The Advisory Board also found evidence suggesting that more employee engagement can drive higher levels of patient satisfaction. For example, for every 1% increase in employee engagement, the board identified an upward trend for both HCAHPS Overall Hospital ratings and HCAHPS Willingness to Recommend ratings. With this in mind, prioritizing the education and training of employees is a valuable investment for everyone involved: patients, providers, and the organization itself.

For this reason, it’s imperative that HIT professionals obtain, maintain, and refine their educational competencies. By joining an association such as HIMSS, employees can access a variety of opportunities to keep their skills up to date and to stay engaged in their life’s work.

In my role at HIMSS, I lead the development of educational programming through the curation of curricula relevant to everyone across the HIT ecosystem, setting the stage for hundreds of educational sessions planned throughout the week of the annual HIMSS Global Conference & Exhibition.

All of the educational content is peer reviewed and targeted to specific audiences, with clear objectives laid out for attendees to review beforehand. From award-winning hospitals presenting success stories through case studies to expert-hosted deep dives exploring the latest digital health technologies, the week-long event is filled with opportunities for industry professionals to expand their knowledge.

However, the reality is that many health systems are feeling the pinch of being understaffed. As a result, they cannot afford to send employees away from work for a week. Fortunately for those facilities, professional associations are creating and disseminating educational opportunities through the creation of virtual experiences that can be accessed at any time. For example, educational sessions, including those taking place at the HIMSS Global Conference, are often recorded so members can access the ones they were unable to attend. In addition, members can access a plethora of whitepapers, podcasts, webinars, and other virtual experiences based on their own style of learning and schedule preferences.

Investing in employee education doesn’t need to be expensive. It doesn’t always mean sending staff back to school. Keeping employees engaged and knowledgeable starts with keeping them connected to experts and resources that can help them on their journey of continuous learning, which many associations can offer access to through low-cost memberships.

There are many different ways to provide employee access. Health care organizations that fail to offer such opportunities could be limiting their capacity for success.

Creating education and training that meets adult learners’ needs is both an art and a science. Not all education and training programs are created the same. HIT professionals and health care organizations seeking to ensure maximum benefit from their investments should conduct extensive research on the source of the education and the type of offerings available.

Education and training courses need to be structured and specifically targeted so it is clear what students will learn and how the curriculum will help them do their job better. Look for seals of approval such as being an approved education partner.

Continuous learning correlates with continuous improvement, and in today’s health care ecosystem, the need for employees that are engaged and aware is more pertinent than ever. Smart health care leaders will do their employees, patients, and organizations a favor and invest in a professional toolbox. There is no greater gift than knowledge, and nothing quite as rewarding as the pursuit of continuous learning.

For those in the business of saving lives and creating tools that improve quality of life, the investment will prove to be priceless.

— JoAnn W. Klinedinst, MEd, CPHIMS, PMP, DES, FHIMSS, FACHE, is vice president of professional development at HIMSS.