The training demands of the healthcare sector are unique and varied. Due to the sheer numbers of people, skillsets and professions that make up the healthcare workforce, training requirements are logistically challenging. Yet it is undeniable that the sector lives or dies by the knowledge of this workforce. Organising training via the traditional means of a classroom setting and face-to-face teacher/pupil relationships is demanding, time consuming and expensive.
Course organisers from HR or Learning and Development (L&D) teams still often need to source suitable and accessible classroom settings, provide tangible, costly materials to deliver key messages and manually set times and dates for attendance and deadlines. In the wake of eLearning and the associated opportunities this can often prove to be unnecessarily testing in an increasingly streamlined and fiscally scrutinised environment for the National Health Service and private healthcare providers.
This article covers the unique nature of the healthcare sector’s training demands and explains why they create challenges when trying to organise training schedules. It then explains how elearning approaches overcome the common challenges of balancing time, costs and attainment faced by traditional face-to-face training methods. Finally, it concludes that elearning methods are efficient, cost-effective and adaptable ways of meeting the unique training demands of the modern cost/benefit-led healthcare sector.
A Complex Working Environment
The training requirements of healthcare workers are uniquely complex. It is axiomatic then that meeting these challenges when organising training schedules is equally as complex.
Key concerns unique to the healthcare sector that need to be considered when organising training are: catering for staff that work in shift rotations to deliver around the clock care; the nationwide nature of the healthcare sector and various trusts within it; the life or death nature of healthcare work; the need to ‘train to retain’ valuable staff members; an intellectual environment that depends on the production of research, in order to create new technologies, pharma and methods of best practice creates a fast-changing learning environment; a highly regulated sector where compliance is always a high priority; and a politically charged environment under constant social, administrative and fiscal scrutiny.
Training is essential to staying on top of this perpetual examination and meet the needs of both service users and clinical auditors.
Fitting Training Around Round-the-Clock Care
It is obvious that at least some staff requiring access to training work in shifts to deliver round-the-clock care. If a team is split into rotations, by definition they will not be available in the working environment for training at the same time. Also, service users regularly need practitioners from various healthcare sectors to address a single problem. These practitioners will need to be brought together for the necessary intersectional training. Therefore, scheduling training for everyone to be in the same place at the same time is often challenging, requiring a dedicated member of the team to ensure the necessary delegates are available for training.
Traditionally this can often mean calling staff in to attend a course when they are not scheduled to work, which would be classed as overtime. Obviously, this costs Trusts money and diverts funds away from the necessary frontline services. A similar logistical issue is when delegates are based at multiple locations nationwide. This makes training that is relevant to a sector-wide group of professionals challenging and often limits training to those who can easily travel to a particular location or Trust area.
Healthcare is one of the few sectors where the consequences of service delivery can prove to be a life or death matter. If training cannot be accessed because of limitations posed by budget, location or scheduling requirements then workers are not going to be as skilled or responsive as they need to be. A BBC article from 2015 highlights the danger that untrained healthcare staff pose to patients as workers from healthcare assistants to junior doctors were routinely being requested to provide frontline services for patients that they were not trained to do. This resulted in easily avoidable errors and time wasted while waiting for supervision from time-strapped nurses and doctors. Anonymous quotes from healthcare assistants included the complaints that:
There’s not enough training, and no time to train even if we wanted to
You cannot cut corners on care work. If that is the case you may as well send anybody off the street to look after people
Medication has been given to the wrong people.
These are all complaints that relate to insufficient training.
The consequences of poor service delivery can also affect staff morale and directly compromise the performance of workers. This can be observed within the institutional culture of a trust, where time pressured staff may feel obliged to carry out tasks they are not trained to do. This BBC article also stated that:
Catherine Foot, assistant director of policy at health charity the King’s Fund, said
the wide range of roles meant “it is not always clear” to clinical teams what skills
support workers have. She said the government’s new care certificate, due to be
introduced in April, would “provide minimum standards of training and skills”,
meaning support workers are less likely to be asked to do things they are not trained
for in the future. But she said she understood how increased pressure on the health
service was creating “an all hands on deck mentality”.
She was then quoted as saying:
“It takes a lot of strength, maturity, resilience and confidence for support workers to
say ‘no, I don’t know how to do that’.”
The Francis Inquiry Report into the institutional failings at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust was published in February 2013. Since then, issues of patient safety, quality of care, and leadership have been in the public eye more than ever. The report directly highlights the fact that, ‘positive organisational cultures … enable the delivery of high-quality care’ (see details of the Francis Inquiry Report discussed on the King’s Fund website).
Care and leadership are directly be cultivated by training, which in turn leads to higher personal job satisfaction and institutional morale.
The importance of morale is illustrated again in another article – from Nursing Times on the best and worst performing NHS trusts, which shows how the relationship between staff morale is closely intertwined with the perceived and real professional and fiscal success of that Trust. Staff that are stressed and under pressure while feeling undertrained do not feel confident in their own skills or the workplace that allows them to work in this kind of environment.
Compromising staff access to training serves to weaken the Hippocratic oath of ‘do no harm’ which underpins work in the healthcare sector, also threatening staff morale, leading to ‘brain drain’ (where highly educated and motivated staff leave a place or situation they do not feel will fulfil their professional needs and ambitions). As well as endangering the lives of patients, endemic organisational failures such as that suffered within Mid Staffordshire will ultimately compromise the success of a given PCT or hospital during clinical audits. The competitive liberal economic model on which funding for hospitals and PCTs in the UK is currently based means that recruiting and retaining trained staff is fundamental to maintaining a successful PCT.
Hand in hand with the above concern to leadership and development teams is that of budgets. It is no secret that budgets in the NHS are constantly being squeezed – so it is essential that staff are trained as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Due to the research-centric nature of the healthcare sector, professionals are constantly required to increase their knowledge and skills. New research, technology, pharma and best practice create a fast-changing environment that traditional methods of classroom based learning struggle to keep up with. But because healthcare delivery affects everyone, it is a politically charged environment under constant scrutiny.
Benefits of eLearning for Healthcare Training
Now we can look at how elearning approaches overcome the common challenges of balancing time and costs. The practical benefits of elearning to healthcare professionals can be found in the ease and speed of elearning content being created and updated compared to traditional classroom sessions and paper materials, and the ability of a learning management system (LMS) to make training access, feedback and assessment available 24/7 anywhere with an Internet connection.
In a peer-reviewed article for the January-March 2018 edition of the journal Open Praxis entitled Building Public Health Capacity Through Online Global Learning (PDF opens in a new window), researchers found that current models of traditional learning in the healthcare sector were woefully inadequate and concluded that ‘Global Learning’ through online learning portals was the most efficient way of learning and sharing knowledge in the digital age.
Classroom sessions demand the physical presence of an instructor, the delegates, a suitable, cost-effective venue, teaching aids like projectors, facilities for comfort breaks, and materials for delegates. Due to the issues outlined above, materials change regularly with new research; instructors often need to travel from other parts of the country (adding to costs in the form of travel and accommodation); and delegates may be either on shift or attending as part of overtime.
Recruitment and Onboarding
Learning and Development teams are also keen to attract highly experienced and skilled instructors and delegates in order to ensure a high level of training and repeat business from practitioners outside the NHS or healthcare company. This can add to costs in terms of a hiring a more expensive venue and providing a more comfortable learning environment and training experience. eLearning, however, reduces the need for these added expenses, freeing up budgets for more, better training and necessary frontline services. With an LMS, delegates can access training at their own time and leisure, working remotely and comfortably. Teaching aids are unnecessary as the learning platform will have the necessary files and documents for 24/7 access. Training can be undertaken at times that suit shift workers, during quiet periods at work and not at the behest of other delegates. Materials can be altered easily and also remotely, by an instructor informed by recent research. These materials can be accessed, for a fee, by practitioners outside the NHS or healthcare company, without the need for a venue or the pressure to create a learning ‘experience’.
Cost-Saving for Healthcare Providers
The financial benefits of elearning are many: it is cheaper than printing and editing paper materials; cheaper than hiring classroom space; cheaper than paying professionals to attend classes when off duty; work targets can be met faster than when set and marked manually to fixed deadlines; faster trainees can complete their training and transfer their knowledge into practice without waiting for other delegates; and less time is wasted waiting for official marking approvals to be carried out before training can become practice.
The seminal working paper from the Thomas B Fordham Institute titled The Costs of Online Learning in 2012 found that eLearning reduced costs by £4,167 from classroom-based modules per person, on average, while an article from Virtual College also referenced this research in explaining why eLearning is cheaper to create and implement than many people expect.
In this article we have looked at the unique nature of the healthcare sector’s training demands and explained why they create challenges when trying to organise training schedules. It has shown how eLearning approaches overcome the common challenges of balancing time, costs and attainment faced by HR or L&D teams tasked with bringing traditional face-to-face training methods, instructors and delegates, materials and venues together in a cost-effective, timely manner.
eLearning methods have been proven to be efficient, cost-effective and adaptable ways of meeting the unique training demands of the modern healthcare sector. High quality, globally sourced, adaptable and accessible training online can nurture skilled workers that have strong, positive perceptions of their workplace and high morale, culminating in a positive organisational culture, strong retention rates of valuable, skilled staff, improved, efficient frontline services for patients and an improved bottom line.
Online Healthcare Training Solutions
When trainers look to make learning materials available online, many start by placing existing classroom documents in a web-based repository. However, to ensure that elearning is adopted consistently, modern online training solutions make content more accessible and engaging for use on computers and mobile devices, such as phones and tablets.
Many large organisations already have elearning delivery available within their HR software toolkit, but engaging with a specialist elearning company, ideally one with experience of creating online healthcare training solutions, will help to ensure that content is developed, delivered, supported and tracked specifically for web-based learning.
Ideally, you’ll work with a solutions provider based in your country – or at least one with experience of delivering online healthcare training within your country – as terminology and learning and compliance requirements vary hugely around the world. For the UK, Day One Technologies is a company that create bespoke healthcare elearning solutions with an approach that is grounded very firmly in learning science and psychology. They create scenario-based learning and, where appropriate, simulation-based training – both of which are greatly under-used in the field of Learning and Development in our opinion. At the time of writing, Day One are working on an interesting NHS project to help reduce patient wait times, drawing on Queuing Theory.
For short, easy to access training, Virtual College offer online healthcare courses in areas such as Infection Prevention & Control, Safeguarding, Health & Safety, and new or updated legislation, such as the Mental Capacity Act.
For making learning materials available and engaging online, Pathway is a cloud-based LMS that has been used by a number of healthcare organisations, including elearning for doctors and other medical staff at the Royal College of Physicians.
If you work with an external elearning solutions provider to create healthcare training solutions, make sure that they take time to understand the unique nature of your working environment, and give you the support and tools to monitor their effectiveness with good tracking and learning analytics, and the capability to update content quick as needed, so that it is future-proof.
Choosing the Best Healthcare Training Solutions Provider
We hope the above research and advice can help guide you in your efforts to improve healthcare training within your organisation, but if you would like any help in choosing the best solutions provider for your needs, feel free to contact us here at training and elearning consultancy, Learning Light Ltd.