Healthcare team training cuts patient mortality, study finds

A physician in scrubs in a hospital hallway
The study indicated that team training also cut medical errors by 18% and improved reaction times to patient needs by 18%. (Image: Getty/NanoStockk)

New training for teams of physicians and clinicians who deliver healthcare services can lead to a significant reduction in patient mortality, according to new research from Rice University.

The study, published in the journal Group & Organization Management, scrutinized 129 previous studies with more than 23,000 participants that were conducted between 2013 and last year. Participants in those studies included doctors, nurses, physician assistants, medical students and even clerks.

“When training is implemented correctly, the result is improved outcomes across the board, both for patients and employees,” said Eduardo Salas, chair of the psychology department at Rice and the study’s lead author, in a statement. “The most significant outcome is the reduction of patient mortality by 13%.” 

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Patient safety in hospitals has been debated for much of the past two decades, since a 1999 study from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that as many as 98,000 Americans died each year due to medical errors. Subsequent studies have indicated that as many as 250,000 to 400,000 American lives are claimed by medical errors each year. A large part of last year’s American College of Healthcare Executives annual conference was devoted to the topic.

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A more recent study from the IHI/NPSF Lucian Leape Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago has concluded that 1 in 5 Americans have experienced a medical error, and that they often have an impact on a patient’s physical and emotional health, relationships and financial well-being. A 2015 followup to the IOM study suggested that reducing diagnostic errors would go a long way toward making hospitals safer.

In addition to a reduction in patient mortality, Salas' research also indicated that team training cut medical errors by 18%, improved reaction times to patient needs by 18% and cut lengths of stay in nonintensive care parts of the hospital by 6%. Patient satisfaction also rose by 13% and employee learning also increased by 29%.