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In 2004, The Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care recognised that the lack of a comprehensive framework describing competencies for patient safety was a barrier to achieving a competent and safe health workforce. This article describes the building of a national patient safety education framework that describes the competencies for healthcare workers.
Develop an educational framework that was patient centred and identified the knowledge, skills and behaviours required by healthcare workers irrespective of their profession, position or location.
The content of the framework was developed using a four‐staged approach: literature review, development of learning areas and topics, classification into learning domains and, lastly, converting into a performance‐sbased format. An extensive consultation and validation process was also undertaken.
A national patient safety education framework was endorsed by The Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care in 2005. The framework is already being used to develop curricula and train the trainer programmes in patient safety.
The framework, which draws its educational approach from adult learning principles, was extensively researched and built on the experience of healthcare workers. The next challenge is to test different strategies for implementing the framework.
Over the past decade, much attention has been paid to redesigning the way health services are managed and delivered. More recently, attention has turned to preparation of the health workforce to deliver safe healthcare using knowledge and principles of patient safety. What kind of training health professionals receive in patient safety and how and where they learn remains disparate and ill defined. A review of existing health professional education curriculums and work place training shows numerous gaps, with many education and training programmes yet to incorporate patient safety elements.
In 2004, The Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care1 recognised that the lack of a comprehensive framework describing competencies for patient safety was a barrier to achieving a competent and safe workforce. This article describes the steps involved in developing a national patient safety education framework for everyone who works in the Australian healthcare system.
The framework,1 published in 2005, is a simple, flexible and accessible template describing the knowledge, skills and behaviours that all healthcare workers need to ensure safe patient care. The framework is designed to assist organisations and people develop educational curriculums and training programmes, and can be accessed online at http://www.safetyandquality.org/framework0705.pdf.
As an educational tool, the framework aims to provide a national guide to the required knowledge and performance elements needed by healthcare workers to take responsibility for patient safety. It may be used in conjunction with developing new programmes or auditing existing ones. More specifically it includes:
Describing patient safety requirements in terms of knowledge and performance provides a useful starting point for workplace‐based training. It affords health industry organisations or training providers the opportunity to develop competency‐based programmes that can contribute to an accredited or credentialled training and education system.
The NPSEF differs from other patient safety frameworks2,3,4,5 and curriculums in placing the patient at the centre of care with the question “what does a health worker need to do today to keep this patient safe”? The answer to the question depends on what position a health worker holds in the organisation and his or her level of responsibility, both clinical and managerial. To date, frameworks and curriculums have been designed for particular groups of people (eg, medical specialists, nurses, allied health practitioners or students) and cover a range of fields such as adverse event reporting, minimising falls and medical errors. This framework seeks to identify all the competencies a health worker requires irrespective of his or her position or role in an organisation.
Any development of an educational framework is guided by the author's vision of whom it is for and how they envisage it being used. The following key principles and assumptions were made about the structure of the NPSEF:
Through the application of the above principles, the framework describes four different levels that are based on employment role and the worker's level of clinical, managerial or support responsibility for patients and clients.
The framework starts with a foundation level of knowledge, skills and behaviours that are relevant and apply to everyone working in healthcare, irrespective of their role, rank or location. Levels 2 and 3 build on level 1 and are designed for those with more hands‐on clinical, supervisory and managerial responsibilities. Level 4 stands alone and identifies organisational competencies. Table 11 shows the structure used to describe the competencies of the framework.
Figure 11 summarises the methods used to develop the framework. The development of the content and framework structure is integrated with a comprehensive consultation and validation process.
The content for the framework was developed using a four‐staged approach:
A systematic review of the literature, books, reports, curriculums and web sites was undertaken to identify the major practice‐based activities associated with patient safety and whether the activities had a positive effect on quality and safety.
The literature on the use of frameworks to identify competencies in patient safety is under‐developed, with few publications directly on the topic. Only two articles7,8 appeared in January 2005 under the search term “patient safety education” and three appeared under the search term “patient safety curriculum”.4,5,9 The Institute of Medicine's report, Health professions education: a bridge to quality,2 identified five core competencies for health professionals, but stopped short of specifically identifying the knowledge and skills that professionals would require depending on their level of experience and responsibility.
The relevant literature relied on for identifying the competencies is mainly Level III evidence comprising descriptive studies, reports, opinions of respected authorities, protocols and standards. The literature search incorporated several categories and subcategories, including adverse events, quality improvement, mistakes, errors, communication, education and training. These key search terms were identified from major reports, books and peer‐reviewed journal articles on patient safety.
The literature is biased towards the hospital workforce and delivery systems. This was adjusted in the framework, using generic descriptors to cover all possible locations and types of health service. Most evidence in the literature around safety and quality relates to health professionals. There was little reference to healthcare workers who provide support services (such as transport drivers or kitchen staff). This was compensated for in the framework by using the knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes for a particular professional group and creating a separate set of knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes that captured the essence of the activity in the context of support service areas. These domains were then validated through a consultation process.
All the practice‐based activities identified in the literature were grouped into several learning areas. A rationale for including each learning area was written and the following seven learning areas were ultimately selected:
Seven learning areas: Adopting a patient‐centred approach, each learning area was analysed for the main subject areas falling within its scope. These subject areas were named learning topics, and a rationale outlining the reason why the particular topic was important to patient safety was written for each.
Twenty two learning topics were chosen for the framework. Box 1 sets out the learning areas and topics.
The learning topics were the genesis for more extensive searching. All the practice‐based activities for each topic area were listed until no more activities were forthcoming and the sources were exhausted. This list was then culled for duplication, practicality and redundancy.
This stage involved classifying each activity into a knowledge, skill or attitude/behaviour. Using the structure set out in box 1, each list was analysed and categorised into one of the four levels of the framework.
The framework identifies evidence‐based learning needs in terms of knowledge, skills and behaviours. These classical learning domains were coalesced into a performance‐based learning guide that is better suited to workplace learning. Both these versions, classical and performance‐based, are retained in the framework documentation to assist curriculum and course development. Figure 22 sets out an annotated example of the performance‐based format—learning topic 1.1 involving patients and carers as partners in healthcare.
The learning areas and topics that make up this framework are as follows:
Use of patient narratives: Use of narratives in healthcare has a long tradition, but these stories are often told from the perspective of the health workers. The patients' stories are missing. Their experiences are reminders that they too are part of the healthcare team and have something to offer. A patient's story is included in each learning topic and is designed to highlight the relevance of the learning topic from his or her perspective and to bring the framework to life by giving some real examples of what can go wrong in the absence of a patient‐centred approach to the delivery of healthcare services.
Figure 11 describes that a key component of the framework's development was full engagement and consultation with stakeholders and experts from across the healthcare sector and community.
Different methods were used to include as many stakeholder groups as possible in the consultation and validation process. These included:
A national roundtable was held at the beginning of the project. International health systems expert Professor Duncan Neuhasuer from Case Western Reserve University, USA, facilitated discussion with invited key stakeholders from around the country. The meeting gained endorsement for the general structure and content of the framework, identified the gaps and barriers to improving patient safety and engaged the support of key stakeholders.
The roundtable was attended by 44 people, with representatives from every state and territory, including consumers, clinicians, trainers and educators, researchers, administrators and policy officers.
Ten focus groups comprising health managers, healthcare workers and consumers were conducted in 2004 in Hobart, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney and was attended by over 100 people.
The focus groups:
Interviews were held with healthcare workers in all categories at nine sites around the country. The sites included primary and tertiary care settings as well as both rural and metropolitan environments. Healthcare workers were interviewed using a prepared survey tool that canvassed: the workers comprehension of the performance elements; whether they currently performed these elements as part of their current duties; the perceived difficulty in performing these elements; what they believed would be the best way to learn about the performance elements in a particular learning topic; and any gaps they saw in the framework.
Over 120 healthcare workers and managers participated in this phase of the project and each individual performance element contained in the framework was covered at least four times.
A database containing over 1500 people and organisations were compiled. Stakeholders provided feedback by email on the content and usability of the framework via the project website. Selected key organisations, groups and people were followed up by telephone and face‐to‐face interview.
The project expert reference group and steering committee compiled a list of national and international experts in all aspects of safety and quality. Each learning topic was sent to at least one of these experts for formal validation. For example, the learning topic on understanding human factors was sent to a US Professor of Engineering and Applied Psychology who was an acknowledged international expert in human factors. The validators are named and acknowledged in the framework.
A formal evidence‐based method was adopted to review feedback obtained during the consultation and validation process. Each stakeholder group was treated as a separate source for the collection, review and reporting of data.
Each feedback item was compared against the evidence base for the framework at a learning topic level. The development group reached a consensus before any changes were made to the framework. All stakeholder and validator feedback and actions taken were captured in a detailed report and provided to the sponsor at the completion of the project.
The framework was endorsed by the Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care in 2005 and has made the framework freely available.
The framework has subsequently been used in a variety of initiatives in safety and quality. These include:
The framework has been extensively researched and built on the experience of healthcare workers who were consulted during its development. This mirrors the quality and safety principles of the collaboration, which is evidenced based where possible and is cognisant of the voices of patients and carers.
The framework draws its educational approach from the widely accepted principles of adult learning. It assumes that health workers will bring to its implementation a mature learner's view of life and learning. Although there may be performance elements in the framework's learning topics that will be new to many healthcare workers, the project's broad consultation process has shown that much of what needs to be formally learnt and assessed relates closely to existing work and life experiences.
The uptake of the framework both in Australia and overseas shows that the framework provides a valuable resource in developing initiatives in safety and quality. The real challenge for the sector is how to widely implement the framework, and this will require commitment not only from healthcare workers but also from healthcare leaders, organisations and the government.
NPSEF - National Patient Safety Education Framework
Competing interests: None declared.