How to assess on-line compliance training

Emerging on-line training programs now offer hospitals and other providers considerable training opportunities. But facilities must assess these programs carefully before making a purchase, warns Dan Roach, vice president and corporate compliance officer at the San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), which operates nearly 50 acute-care facilities throughout California and the West Coast. "On-line training can be very expensive," he says, "but it does not have to be."

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. Other key considerations include the accuracy of the content, how the material was developed, how it is maintained, and how it is updated.

"Look at the content and complexity of the program," says Roach. He points out that some groups of employees will require very basic education, while others will need fairly sophisticated education. "Make sure that you are getting the right mix," he says.

Roach says hospitals can determine whether it is an effective teaching tool by having some of their employees use it before it is purchased to find out if it is something that really helps them learn and retain the information.

"In my experience, we don’t spend enough time evaluating some of these tools," says Roach. "We have a tendency to focus on the graphics or the price," he adds. "You may pay twice as much money for a product, but if it is a lot more effective in delivering the message, it may be the better deal in the long run."

How quickly the program can be accessed is another important consideration, Roach says. That is particularly true if the educational focus is patient care personnel who may only access the program intermittently. "You want something that they can get into fairly rapidly," he says, "and maybe something that can be bookmarked."

According to Roach, all of these considerations should go into the overall cost of implementing an on-line training program. "It is not just the cost of the software and what you are paying the vendor," he says. "All of these things go into assessing the value of what your product is ultimately going to cost your organization."

Here are some other key considerations:

  • Ensure adequate contracting. Roach says it is very important to have a clear contract that specifically delineates performance expectations and what will be delivered in terms of a product. Also, Roach says he looks for a mechanism to guarantee that the software he purchases will be available a few years down the road if the business encounters difficulties.
  • Establish explicit performance standards. Roach says it is important to talk to your information systems people and make sure they understand how quickly you can access the information, how long it takes to log in, and similar considerations. "That is an indication of the impact it will have on your productivity and the utility of the product," he explains.
  • Know system limitations. According to Roach, even a large, sophisticated system such as his can encounter difficulties when it comes to having employees access these programs. "We have a long way to go in getting all of our employees access," says Roach. He says hospitals should be cautious about promises from information systems staff in this regard.
  • Assess functionality. Another important question is whether a hospital will have the technical staff to support the program internally and whether there is an adequate relationship with the outside vendor to make sure it can provide adequate support.
  • Assess human resource issues. "If you are going to provide education, you need to have a mechanism for tracking and reporting that education," says Roach. Many hospitals already have systems for doing that, but he says it must be determined if the systems can be integrated. "Education is great," he says. "But the OIG is always going to want to see what you have done, and you need to be able to do that."
  • Address personnel management. A final area that must be addressed is personnel management, says Roach. If hospitals have a program that can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they may want to let employees access it from home. However, that requires that you can manage its use and that you understand the budgetary impact. "All of these issues bring consequences and costs for the organization if they are not carefully managed," he says.