Building stronger safety skills through storytelling

December 16, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

“Listening with empathy, a COVID-19 hotline staff member exhibited a questioning attitude and didn’t give up until they found someone to help a distraught father-to-be.”

“Kellogg Eye Center team members made a swift decision to speak up for safety by calling security when a person wearing a lab coat claiming to be psychiatrist was milling about their clinic.”

Storytelling is vital to create a safety culture.

“Following the handoff process, an RN noticed a discrepancy between the patient’s epidural rate and MAR and then validated and verified the order with the care team.”

“The Continuous Improvement Team created an SBAR for U-M Health President David Miller (who warmly received it) to communicate clearly a collection of innovative ideas to enhance our corporate culture.”

What do these incidences all have in common? They all exhibit employees using high reliability skills to support patient care — and they were all recently shared as a safety story at meetings or huddles.

Information delivered through stories can be 22 times more effective than just delivering facts, which is the reason why high reliability organizations (HROs) use stories to share knowledge and build a strong safety foundation.

Storytelling is a simple, yet powerful way to celebrate successes and inspire each other to improve safety standards. And storytelling couldn’t get any simpler — all you have to do is use this Safety Story Template.

The stories are two-minute statements which can involve patient care, workforce processes or even personal examples which remind us to remain focused on safety and reliability. It is suggested that each story should follow the three-part storytelling structure (described in the graphic below).

Part of the agenda

The Chelsea Health Center (CHC) has a practice of including “Safety Story” as the first item on all meeting agendas (click here for a sample agenda with safety story prompt). Leaders than select a special “Safety Story of the Month” to share with the entire staff at monthly meetings.  

“It gives us the opportunity for everyone to learn from the stories,” said CHC administrative manager Marla Slocum-Casper. “Sharing safety stories also shows that we are united in providing safe patient care and providing a safe environment for the team and physicians to care for our patients.

“One of our safety stories involved a patient who was exhibiting angry and escalating behavior in the clinic,” she added. “We all discussed how it was handled and how to de-escalate similar situations in the future to keep other patients and staff members safe.”

Like the CHC, all team members, not just leaders, across the organization are encouraged to share stories and be part of the learning discussions that can result from these stories.

If you or your team has trouble collecting good safety examples, the quality team has developed a Safety Story Website which includes an HRO Sightings Archive.

To report a HRO skill sighting, email