EH rounds build support for safety

Listen to employees, gather facts

Injury reports don't tell the whole story about hazards in the hospital. The best way to find out what you need to know is to talk to employees.

That is the value of "rounding," a method of gathering information and feedback based on the common medical practice, says Sharon Petersen, MHA, RN, COHN/CM, corporate employee health manager at Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City, UT.

"The objective is to build some clear communication at all levels in the organization and actively engage employees and physicians in looking at process improvements," says Petersen, who spoke at the annual conference of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare (AOHP) in September, which marked the 30th year of the organization.

Intermountain Health Care encompasses about 32,000 employees over a 450-mile geographic area, including 23 hospitals and more than 150 physician clinics. Petersen oversees the work of about 40 employee health professionals, and she wanted to make sure there was consistency throughout the organization.

Petersen also wanted a way to get feedback from employees about their health and safety needs. "It's all about health and wellness and accident prevention," she says. "Those are the crucial services we can provide to employees. If we aren't out there rounding and identifying the issues, we're not going to be in front of those accidents."

Rounding can be formalized, with objectives, or can be informal. But here are some important elements, says Petersen:

Use rounding to build relationships with employees. Employees are busy and you don't want to disrupt them. But they also are a vital part of the employee health paradigm, notes Petersen. "The accountability for employee safety doesn't only belong to employee health, it belongs to employees," she says. "We wanted to focus on that in a positive way."

Petersen suggests spending just 10 minutes talking to each employee. You can focus on one or two issues you have identified, but let the employee do most of the talking, she says. "Focus on listening, letting the employees talk, soliciting their ideas and suggestions," she says.

She says employee health professionals should do their rounds at least quarterly, but preferably monthly. Notify employees that you will be coming by and share any specific questions you have in advance, she says.

Gather factual information. You don't want to get involved with gossip or hearsay. Your job is to gather actionable information that pertains to employee health. It may help to have specific objectives each time you round. For example, if you noticed patient handling injuries despite your safe patient handling program, you might want to find out whether there are barriers to using the equipment. How comfortable are employees with the equipment? Do they need more training — or more slings? Is the equipment accessible?

Put it in writing. You can use an informal tool to record employee comments when you go on your rounds. Then follow up on questions or issues that have been raised so that employees can see that you took their concerns seriously.

Leverage your efforts. Part of your mission is to raise the profile of employee health. You also can do that by becoming involved in various hospital committees — or at least getting an occasional spot on the agenda. This includes the safety committee, sharps committee, environment of care committee, human resources committee, risk management, infection control and quality. You'll also want to connect with managers to follow up on issues you've identified or employee concerns.

Rounding provides a framework for addressing safety issues and it can net some goodwill for employee health. "Our employee health nurses have reported back that employees and managers are very, very receptive to this," says Petersen. "The employees really appreciate them coming out."

They're left with a greater awareness of employee health and the valuable service it can provide, she says.