It's Never Too Late (or Early) To Build a Learning Culture

February 21, 2018 Anjali Arya

There are 1449 days until the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

You might not know this without conducting an online search, but if you asked an Olympic athlete, they’d probably be able to give you an estimate close to that. Why? Because that’s how many days they have to learn from their mistakes, train, improve and set themselves up for success at the next games.

While the timeline might not be so easily defined in healthcare, you can find this very same mindset in healthcare professionals and organizations around the globe.

Last month we started a conversation you to the concept of learning culture and its ties to root cause analysis (RCA). However, learning culture in healthcare goes far beyond the mechanics of an RCA.

Healthcare organizations around the world are filled with professionals, spanning disciplines and roles, that ultimately share a unified goal: providing safe, consistent, high quality care.

By it’s very nature, meeting this goal requires a constant improvement.

In 2014, two researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, Ontario published a paper on the subject. In it they wrote:

“Organizational learning in healthcare is not a onetime intervention, but a continuing organizational phenomenon that occurs through formal and informal learning which has reciprocal association with organizational change. As such, organizational changes elicit organizational learning and organizational learning implements new knowledge and practices to create organizational change.”

What they describe is a cycle – learning creates change and change creates more opportunities to learn. In effect, the cycle sustains itself; as long as the people along for the ride are committed to continually acting on the insights they get.

There are lots of ways to build a learning culture. You can take a page out of Google’s approach, learn how Ochsner Health System is using RCA2 or sign up for our upcoming webinar on how Gundersen Health is closing the loop on physician education through peer review. 

There are countless examples in healthcare of organizations that are embodying a learning culture to drive improvements – and in many respects, having a culture of learning is tantamount to a culture of safety. According to the IHI, “An organization can improve upon safety only when leaders are visibly committed to change and when they enable staff to openly share safety information.” This commitment to openness and a non-punitive approach is key to ensuring that the focus, when adverse events happen, is on the opportunity to learn and to proactively ensure they do not happen again.

However, scaling these these learnings from an individual or small group to organization-wide can be a significant challenge. The IHI recommends learning boards as one strategy. These are "analog or digital whiteboards used to visually display key processes, measures and improvements at the unit level" that help to promote awareness and promote "operational transparency because they offer a way for people to observe the learning process in action." There are other ways to visualize data; Dashboards in the RL6, for example, provide high level data on sign in, and k-carding is an effective way of visually engaging staff in infection prevention (you can learn more about how Helen DeVos Children's Hospital is using this tactic with a big impact in our blog archives). 

While the specifics of what your organizations' learning culture looks like may differ, the concept and the motivation behind it is really universal across healthcare: growing and learning together to improve care. 

How are you encouraging learning at your organization? Share your tips and strategies in the comments below, or join the conversation in our online community RL HUB

About the Author

As part of the marketing team at RL, Anjali is passionate about innovation in healthcare. When she's not learning about new client initiatives or helping to plan RL Palooza, you can find her escaping to her next adventure.

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