Safety Huddles in the Ambulatory Setting

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Healthcare has a lot of moving parts that rely on multidisciplinary teamwork, communication, and process. When there is a disruption in any one of these areas it can have a compounding effect that leads to frustration, workarounds, and sometimes patient harm. Communication failures continue to be one of the leading causes of sentinel events, which brings us to safety huddles. Daily safety huddles, present an opportunity for staff to flag unsafe conditions and take proactive steps to solve for and eliminate matters that pose a threat to patient safety (Vis, 2021). While safety huddles originated in hospitals, these meetings can occur in any clinic or ambulatory setting. The huddle lasts only 15 minutes and has the same standing agenda:

  1. Look back – Share concerns that occurred in the last 24 hours.
  2. Look ahead – Anticipate needs or disruptions in the next 24 hours.
  3. Follow-up – Identify what needs to occur to mitigate newly identified safety issues.

In a nutshell, safety huddles create the time and space for healthcare workers to discuss what they need to do their jobs safely. Whether it is a supply issue, equipment issue, staffing issue, IT issue, etc. this brief meeting provides the venue for efficient communication and problem-solving.

Ideally, the people that attend the huddle are supervisors, charge nurses, managers, directors, and at least one practice administrator or CEO who can escalate more serious concerns that require administrative action. It is also vital that staff see executive leaders at these meetings to show their commitment and support for patient safety. The safety huddle is typically facilitated by the CEO, Practice Manager, or identified Safety Officer. Whoever holds the lead role in facilitating should take steps to ensure that the meeting remains on task and on time and does not become punitive. Each attendee is asked to report out needs/concerns for their respective departments. If longer discussions are needed to create a plan, the facilitator can identify who should participate in a post-safety huddle meeting to come up with a solution. This allows the meeting to be respectful of everyone’s time but still solution-focused.

The safety huddle provides continual awareness of the stress levels within an organization, and a mechanism for frontline staff to share concerns through their supervisors. As an added benefit to team cohesion, these meetings often naturally move towards celebrating successes. When a CEO or Practice Manager learns about a near-miss event that a frontline staff escalates, the CEO can later personally thank or recognize the frontline worker for speaking up for patient safety.

The benefits of the safety huddle may not always be evident at the outset and carving out the time can be challenging. For this reason, leadership commitment is crucial in getting started but typically after 6 months staff begin to see the value. Persistence will pay off by improving risk identification, interdisciplinary collaboration, and increasing the organization’s proactive approach to risk reduction.

For more information about how to implement a safety huddle in your setting please reach out to MIEC’s Patient Safety Risk Management Dept.