Employees are the ‘key to our success’: Everyone has a role to play on journey to high reliability

August 20, 2019  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

As Michigan Medicine embarks on its journey to high reliability, faculty and staff at all levels will be the keys to its success. No matter your role — as administrator, clinician or central services team member — everyone across the organization is crucial to ensuring that the organization runs as effectively and safely as possible. That is the foundation of high reliability.

“Our employees are our most valuable resource, and as a leadership team, we know that partnering with them to tap into their expertise will help improve our quality of care, reduce harm to patients and manage costs,” said David Spahlinger, M.D., president of the U-M Health System.

Looking at other industries

The concept of high reliability originated in complex industries such as commercial aviation and nuclear power, where intricate systems increase the likelihood of accidents and adverse events. A highly-reliable organization depends on its people and certain behaviors, tools and techniques to consistently avoid potential errors and, subsequently, poor outcomes.

“As health care becomes increasingly complex, we can learn a lot from the best practices in other diverse industries that have similar levels of intricacy,” Spahlinger said. 

Highly-reliable organizations depend on transparency and have reliable processes, make continuous efforts to improve and have a culture in which all employees are encouraged to speak up and raise concerns. Becoming a highly-reliable organization requires the support and commitment of faculty and staff at all levels across the organization.

“As always, our employees will be the key to our success,” Spahlinger said.

Creating a shared culture

Later this year, Michigan Medicine faculty and staff will be encouraged to register for High Reliability Universal Skills training through MLearning. The course will focus on developing many of the skills that highly-reliable organizations put into practice.

These skills include fostering better communication that furthers teamwork and respect among colleagues. It also means adopting practices to cross-check work, validate and verify processes, and identify potential red flags. All of these improvements, while seemingly simple, will collectively create a stronger safety culture where employees are the first line of defense against mishaps and errors.

“These skills are called ‘universal skills’ because they can truly be used universally, meaning they can be practiced and applied by anyone in any role across the organization,” said Darci Hoag, operations administrator for Michigan Medicine Human Resources. “For instance, these skills are useful in HR because of our work with employee information. When we hire someone new, it’s very important to ensure we have accurate information and spelling of their name for background checks and processing their employment. Utilizing highly-reliable communication practices to cross-check information and verify accuracy will reduce errors and ensure that employees have a smooth onboarding process.”

It’s all about us

As Hoag mentioned, this journey to high reliability will engage all employees, even those who don’t work directly in the patient care setting.

It is just as critical for the IT staff who administer the electronic medical records, the analyst who manages supply chain inventory, and the financial adviser who implements payment plans to develop the mindset and skills of a highly-reliable organization. The work they do, in some direct or indirect way, impacts and informs key decisions about a patient’s care and the experience they have at Michigan Medicine.

“As someone who works in IT and not in direct patient care, I often only see patients if I am heading to a meeting in the hospital,” said Michael Warden, senior director of the Service Management group in Health Information Technology & Services (HITS). “But I know that so much of the work at Michigan Medicine is done behind-the-scenes, and at the end of the day, the things we do will impact the experience of the patient, the doctor and the care providers.”

In essence, if everyone adopts highly-reliable behaviors and skills, the organization as a whole will improve.

“This process is all about you — the universal skills will help you do your work better and help Michigan Medicine serve its patients better,” Spahlinger said. “That’s why we’re thankful for the cooperation of our employees and excited to see how the organization improves its processes in the months and years ahead.”

More information about universal skills training for faculty and staff will be available in the coming weeks. The most updated information on Michigan Medicine’s high reliability journey can always be found on the HRO website.