How to effectively utilize on-line compliance training

"Training is a challenge," says Susie Draper, corporate compliance administrator and privacy officer for Intermountain Healthcare, based in Salt Lake City. "In health care, it poses some extra challenges," she argues. Those include scheduling, making sure the content is interesting and applicable to a variety of employees, and ensuring widespread participation.

Unfortunately, what often happens with health care education is "spray and pray," says Draper. "You spray a ton of information at your audience, and then you pray that something sticks," she explains. "You hope at least it makes it through the course evaluation and in compliance through the competency testing."

According to Draper, the objective of compliance officers should be to tailor that information to your audience, often using a new on-line approach.

She points out that different generations, and even many among the same generation, have very different problem-solving and learning styles. For example, some employees are more audio-oriented while others are more visual. Some employees prefer to manage their own learning more than others. Everyone wants their education to be meaningful, but the definition of "meaningful" will vary, she adds.

According to Draper, there are some distinct advantages for new on-line training strategies. For example, the interactive style often makes it very appealing to a variety of different generations. "Learners can choose the sequence; it is not linear," she says.

Many employees may want to be able to choose the sequence of their learning and access the web as an additional resource to augment their learning, she adds.

Ease of use is another advantage, Draper says. She says Intermountain has employed a number of different pilot programs in its on-line training. Some were rudimentary while others proved ineffective. Now that the interfaces are easier to use, effectiveness also has improved, she reports.

With 22 hospitals and 100 clinics throughout Utah and Idaho, consistency sometimes is a challenge, Draper says. "You sometimes are unable to structure the information and maintain its quality," she says. "We have looked to on-line or electronic training as a means to standardize the quality of information."

Nothing frustrates an employee audience more than believing it is getting only half the story, adds Draper. In a classroom environment, lessons are often cut short and instructions can be unclear. "We found that web-based or electronic training has made it much easier to structure information, and employees have had greater satisfaction," she says.

Draper says the most important feature of web-based training is that it is "learner-controlled." Employees do not have control over many areas, she explains. "If you can develop an educational seminar so that they navigate the pathways and control the sequence of information, they will be able to determine the level of detail they confront."

Within Intermountain’s system, she says employees can opt for only bulleted information or follow it all the way to the Federal Register, if they desire. They also can select the presentation mode, Draper adds.

Another advantages of on-line training is that it always is available. That is very important, since one of the initial challenges often is scheduling. On-line training also is self-paced, and Draper says Intermountain has experienced greater comprehension as a result.

However, there are other challenges in addition to generational preferences, warns Draper. Some employees, such as nurses, already spend considerable time on-line and are not anxious to spend time on-line learning. In addition, not all organizations are well suited to meet the demands of on-line training, and some organizations have greater computer penetration than others. Some employees may have Internet access but not intranet access, she adds.

Dan Roach, vice president and corporate compliance officer at San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), which operates nearly 50 acute-care facilities throughout California and the West Coast, says CHW explored a variety of options for training and found that some worked far better than others. "We ran into some real hurdles and some unanticipated hurdles," he reports.

Roach says the first question to address when developing an on-line capability or on-line training resource is the substantive content and the target audience. "Don’t assume that content is accurate," he warns. Some content may have been developed for a certain region of the country or developed using certain fiscal intermediary or carrier data, or local medical review policies.

"Those can vary significantly in different parts of the country," he warns. Some variation may be unavoidable if a broad-based program is going to be developed. But employees must at least be alerted to that possibility, he says.

Compliance officers also should pay close attention to how the material was developed, how it is maintained, and how it is updated, Roach says. "Health care is a rapidly changing environment," he points out. "You don’t want to buy something that is going to remain stale and become rapidly outdated."

Roach also advises prospective purchasers to check references to find out what other organizations are doing and what their experience has been as well as what hurdles they have encountered in implementing a specific program.