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Medical class works to build safer care

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Shane M. Phipps
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
This is part one of a five part series on patient safety.

Safety is paramount in the Air Force, but within the medical career field it is vital as one mistake could lead to a loss of life.

Since 2009, the 366th Medical Group has taught a program called Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety, more commonly referred to as "Team STEPPS." The course was created by the Department of Defense, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to help optimize performance among teams of medical professionals, enabling them to respond quickly and effectively to any medical situation.

"The Air Force medical system has invested heavily in tools to help staff practice and implement patient safety strategies," said Col. Timothy Cook, 366th MDG deputy commander. "One example is Team STEPPS, which is a three-hour mandatory class for all staff members."

For the members of the MDG, safe medical practice is more than a goal; it is their way of life.

"Patient safety is in our culture," explained Cook. "It is woven into everything we do, throughout all functions of the hospital."

This specific program aims at improving patient safety in multiple ways, but one of the most integral is communication.

"The Team STEPPS class looks to improve the collaboration and communication between the staff and patients," said Marcia Vondran Lutz, 366th MDG patient safety manager. "Training as a team, which facilitates and encourages everyone to work together, is very important for us to practice before real situations arise."

Management also understands the significance of the program and has made it a priority for all medics.

"It involves communication techniques and tools similar to what you would see in the airline industry, so we are sure that no part of the treatment plan gets dropped between levels of care," said Cook. "Everybody is on the same page this way."

Giving participants the right tools to work together effectively and efficiently is another purpose of the program.

According to Maj. Janet Jones, 366th MDG inpatient flight commander and Team STEPPS instructor, these tools can include anything from checklists, standardized verbiage, briefings, huddles and encouragement to speak up to promote shift change safety.

The syllabus also includes various lectures and games geared toward teaching students the value of all team members working cohesively to deliver superior results.

Vondran Lutz agrees the key to superior performance is for all medical personnel to be on the same page.

"This improves the quality of care for our patients and assists us to understand each other, but it also ensures we all have a common understanding of what's going on with our patients, so we can improve the care and give them the highest quality treatment," said Vondran Lutz.

For the members of the MDG, the seriousness of the program couldn't be more real.

"Utilizing the communication skills learned here is very important because it could help save a life one day," explained Jones. "The most common reason for medical errors is miscommunication and poor teamwork, and this class definitely helps prevent that."