E-learning makes it easy to meet requirements

Tests ensure documentation of competency

No one enjoys watching a video of a talking head and, even if you know the course is required, it is hard to learn the material when you are thinking about fighting traffic to get home or about how boring or out of date the video is.

These are the problems faced by home health agencies that turned to videos as part of "canned" educational programs. "Videos and self-study booklets are limited because they cannot be easily updated," points out Debbie Scholl, RNC, BSN, MSN, managing director of CHEX, the e-learning division of The Corridor Group, an Overland Park, KS-based consulting firm. "Not only can web-based learning programs be easily updated to reflect new regulations and changes in information, but they can also be interactive, allowing users to select answers to questions inserted in the program, to point and click for pull-down boxes with extra information, and to choose scenarios that describe how they would handle different situations," she points out.

While the flexibility of e-learning programs enables staff members to take the course and the course tests in their home at any time of day, remember to address the needs of employees who may not have home computers, suggests Scholl. "Even if an employee has a computer at home, he or she may choose to take the test on an office computer because there are fewer distractions at the office as opposed to home," she says.

"All of our clinicians have laptops so they can work at home or the office or anywhere they want," says Gloria D. Brooks, MPA, chief operating officer at Visiting Nurse Association of Southeast Michigan in Oak Park, MI. "I initially thought everyone would want to take the courses at home, but we did find that many of our home health aides don't have access to a computer," she says. "Our library at our office has two computers with Internet access, so they can use them anytime." Because home health aides do typically come into the office most days, using the library computers is not a disruption to their schedules, Brooks says.

Even though the courses can be taken anytime, it is best to set a schedule for when courses required for licensure, competence assessments, or accreditation requirements must be taken, suggests Scholl. "Your schedule can be general and say that four courses must be complete in a six-month period, or you can set one-month periods of time for specific courses," she says. It really depends on your agency's needs, Scholl adds.

"We do map out the schedule so that we can keep track of who has completed which course more easily," says Brooks. "The OASIS course is comprised of three modules, each of which takes about one hour to complete, so we give employees six weeks to complete the course," she says. Other courses are single modules, so the time frame usually is one month to complete the course, she adds. "The timeline is important so that we can easily identify who has not completed the course and we can remind them to take it," she says.

Tests provide documentation

Most e-learning programs contain modules that cover the basics of home care, including OASIS, HIPAA regulations, workplace violence, domestic violence, risk management, and infection control. At the end of each module there is a test to measure understanding, says Anna Alvarez, RN, director of the home care program at Cardinal Hill Rehab Hospital in Lexington, KY. "The tests are not easy and many employees tell me that they didn't do so well on the first try," she says. The test can be taken as many times as necessary and a report is generated to show the employee's score and document that the course was taken and passed.

Do not expect a web-based education program to take the place of educators in your agency, warns Alvarez. Rather than viewing the web-based program as a potential threat to their jobs, the agency's educators love the program, she says. "They say that they now have more time to do their job of training employees for specific tasks, rather than spending time on repetitive orientation courses," she says. Because her agency rarely hires more than one staff member at a time, orientation and teaching the basic information required for orientation was handled in a one-on-one, time-intensive situation. "Now educators can focus on specific, job-related issues that require one-on-one teaching rather than HIPAA requirements," she points out.

Having the employee take the course at home doesn't mean that you don't have to pay them, says Brooks. "We pay employees for the one hour they need to take the course and the test," she says. "We still save money because we don't have to reimburse them for travel to the office, nor do we have to pay our educators to teach the class."

While there are many different web-based programs available, be sure to evaluate the modules carefully, suggests Scholl. "There are many hospital-related programs, but the fire safety module for hospital employees is not applicable for home care employees," she says. "Be sure that the basic modules cover the material that your employees need."

When introducing a web-based educational program, be sure that you offer training programs that show users how to log in, use passwords, and move through the screens, suggests Scholl. "A manual that shows pictures of the icons that appear throughout the program and gives step-by-step instructions is also helpful for employees who don't regularly use computers," she says.

While her staff readily accepted the educational program, one challenge that Brooks did not anticipate was on the technical side of the program. "We did have a few people who were resistant to the program, but we had such strong support throughout all managers and supervisors that the resistance was minor," she says. "We did have problems when people were trying to use their home computers because there was a wide range of types of computers and different software configurations," she says. "Our vendor worked with us to address these glitches and make sure that everyone had access to the program."

An extra benefit of a web-based educational program for agencies with multiple offices is the standardization of information, says Scholl. "For the basic courses, you can make sure that all of the information is covered in the same manner, with the same emphasis in all locations."

A key to successfully implementing web-based education is to start with a strong implementation plan that addresses all issues, suggests Brooks. "We had an educator leave our agency for another job prior to the implementation but the plan was so well thought out that another educator stepped in to oversee the implementation with no problem," she says.

As she approaches the one-year anniversary of implementing the web-based education program, Brooks has no regrets. "We need to find different ways to approach our business, and I'm glad that we were willing to think of staff education in a different way," she says.


For more information about Web-based staff education, contact:

  • Anna Alvarez RN, Director of the Home Care Program, Cardinal Hill Rehab Hospital, 2050 Versailles Road, Lexington, KY 40504. Phone: (859) 367-7148. E-mail: anna2@cardinalhill.org.
  • Gloria D. Brooks, MPA, Chief Operating Officer at Visiting Nurse Association of Southeast Michigan, 25900 Greenfield Road, Suite 600, Oak Park, MI 48237. Phone: (248) 967-9611. Fax: (248) 967-8338. E-mail: Gbrooks@vna.org.