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The Value of Daily Safety Huddles: A Key Tool in High Reliability Organizations


By LuAnn Vis, RN, BSN, MSOD | Associate Director of High Reliability Initiatives, Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare

Outside of the football field, few industries have embraced the huddle like health care. Daily safety briefings — also known as safety huddles, daily briefings or daily safety calls — are short, 15-minute meetings among hospital staff to discuss safety challenges and inform frontline staff and leadership of past issues, adverse conditions or disruptions. These quick assemblies also 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.

While many industries shifted to virtual platforms at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to work from home to enforce proper social distancing, health care staff can still benefit from face-to-face daily briefings. To allow for proper social distancing, leadership can identify larger areas for staff to gather, such as a hallway, and create opportunities to continue in-person work in small groups after the meeting. If your team is virtual, consider using virtual breakout rooms for post-group discussion. When and where are important, but the critical piece is the consistency and accountability: Bringing a team together for a daily safety briefing leads to and supports a high reliability system where organizational improvements can be made and sustained.

As we embark on 2021 and organizations are working diligently to eliminate barriers to safety, and to strengthen teams and decrease patient harm, daily safety briefings are a great way to address these areas of improvement. Organizations can take these steps to successfully introduce these briefings and progress in the new year.

When you plan to introduce daily briefings, consider who the briefing will involve, when and how often it will occur, and who will lead. Every sector of the organization, both clinical and operational, should be represented to ensure best effectiveness. Generally, it is a good practice to have one representative, in person or virtually, from each department to report out to their wider team. Next, determine an optimal standing time for the daily safety briefings; meetings usually take place in the morning. Remember that Saturday and Sunday should be part of this equation; safety is a 24/7 consideration. Lastly, identify who will lead. This person can be a patient safety leader, the CEO, or a Senior Leader. These steps are key in setting up a daily safety meeting within your organization.

Introducing the huddle is just step one. To ensure your briefing is well-organized and efficient, consider a defined agenda (order of reports) and “scripted” report with metrics for each department to share, which helps to keep the huddle focused on key safety issues. These metrics often focus on events in the previous 24 hours, anticipated risks for the next 24 hours, updates on safety risks identified the previous day, and requests for assistance.

Taking time to objectively evaluate the huddle process on a regular basis is vital to success. Discuss as a team any barriers to getting the information needed and whether you are hearing “nothing to report” too frequently. This might signal that you need more consistent coaching on the types of concerns that should be shared. Organizations that have successfully implemented effective huddles are educating frontline managers about what to share in a huddle. Even more, they are tracking what risks are being shared and work to identify and address trends.

The assessment goes both directions, and teams must ask: Are we holding ourselves accountable for reporting back out? Do we have the right mechanisms to get information back out to the frontline staff, which needs the information the most? The organizational safety huddle is typically not the forum to resolve the problem — but it is the opportunity to manage accountability for resolution. Strong leaders are intentional in huddles to follow-up on issues identified the previous day and set a date for resolution of longer-term items. Hanging white boards in huddle meeting space or administrative offices can be used as a visual way to track items and reinforce two-way accountability.

The benefits of daily safety huddles are clear and can improve team dynamics, demonstrate senior leadership’s commitment to patient safety and alert of staff concerns, needs or issues. Especially in this challenging and demanding environment, and as we embrace the new year, it is crucial that health care teams find ways to continue to improve and prioritize patient care and safety. While carving out time for a daily 15-minute meeting may be challenging for leaders, daily briefings are an instrumental tool in driving change and quality improvement.