Non-clinical health care staff, including practice managers, medical coders and billing professionals, are often forgotten when it comes to training. After all, they don’t treat patients, so they don’t have an impact on care, right?

Wrong, says Jennifer Moore, manager of curriculum design for Relias. Almost every employee at a health care organization can have at least an indirect impact on patient care. What if the supply manager isn’t properly trained and doesn’t order the tools a surgeon needs to operate? What if the billing specialist hasn’t learned about the newest payer, and the practice doesn’t get reimbursed that month? “Health care reimbursement,” says David Womack, CEO of the Practice Management Institute, “is probably one of the most difficult financial transactions that takes place in America today.” If the employees in charge of these transactions aren’t trained effectively, how will their organizations continue to operate?

Unique Training Needs

Clearly, inadequate training for anyone at a health care organization can be a significant problem. So why does inadequate training happen, and what does good training look like?

Training for health care staff is very focused on compliance, especially with anticipated changes in federal and state policies. However, says Moore, employees in any role at any organization also need professional development to help them improve their performance and grow as professionals. For example, everyone who works in health care “is customer-facing to some degree,” so ensuring that all staff have been trained effectively in customer service skills is important. Another area that’s often overlooked for health care staff is leadership development – but effective leadership is as important in health care organizations as it is anywhere else.

Challenges include staff shortages and time constraints, according to a 2017 Relias survey of over 5,000 health care professionals. ROI is also a challenge, with less than half of respondents reporting that “training directly impacts their financial results.” That said, Relias has found that “organizations that place staff development and training as a top priority tend to see a substantial impact on their top business goals.”

The Benefits of E-Learning

E-learning offers convenience and the ability for employees to learn at their own pace, wherever and whenever they want. This convenience can be especially beneficial for health care staff, who may find it difficult to leave their job for training. It also helps ensure consistency; every learner receives the same content, in the same format. With in-person training, content can vary depending on the instructor or even the day it’s being delivered.

If you design it well, says Maria Samot, director of curriculum design and research at Relias, you can “challenge learners in the context of their own environment.” Thanks to the brain’s negativity bias, we tend to remember negative events and mistakes. In a health care employee’s day-to-day job, a mistake can be very costly and even dangerous. E-learning can provide realistic scenarios in which learners can make mistakes safely but memorably.

Another benefit to e-learning is that many online learning platforms support tracking and measurement. As learners complete assessments, the platform can report on their progress and help training managers make informed decisions. There’s room for improvement in this area, however; Relias’ 2017 survey found that while 84 percent of respondents “reported high use of either some or all online training,” only 26 percent of respondents “have well-developed methods to evaluate whether what is taught in training is put in practice on the job.”

The Benefits of In-Person Training

Womack believes e-learning can’t beat in-person training when it comes to the professional development and compliance training of non-clinical health care staff. “There’s a whole lot to be learned from other people sitting in a classroom,” he says, “and that’s very difficult to duplicate in an online environment.” Networking and learning from how other offices and organizations operate can make learners think differently – often for the better.

Samot points out that with e-learning, you “can control the learner’s pace or allow them to self-discover the content, but you can’t always do both, and so inevitably, you’re going to have some learners who are going to take advantage of that freedom and skip some content.” It’s harder to do that when you’re in a classroom. In-person training can also be easier to customize for specific needs or organizations, especially if the online alternative is off-the-shelf e-learning content.

In-person training, Samot says, is “really good for creating that personal connection.” It also enables trainers to answer questions and provide instant feedback and clarification, which can be difficult online, and supports social learning, where learners can ask questions of each other and learn from each other’s experiences. Instructors can also read learners’ non-verbal signals to determine if they’re understanding the content and “tweak the training as it’s happening,” Womack says.

The Best of Both Worlds: Blended Learning

Maybe the answer isn’t e-learning or in-person training, but a combination of the two. In fact, Samot says, Relias is an advocate of using a blended learning model. “Many times,” she says, “organizations might use online learning for their foundational knowledge” and use in-person training for activities and skills practice. The key is to develop a training plan, based on a thorough needs analysis, for the organization and for each employee.

When teaching fire safety, for example, an organization might purchase off-the-shelf e-learning modules, since the basics apply to any industry or organization, and then in-person training to cover the content specific to their organization or office.

E-learning can also be used to reinforce training; Samot says research shows “spaced repetition is helpful,” so delivering online content multiple times after a training event can help make sure it’s retained. “But we shouldn’t stop there,” she adds. “Supervisors should continue to create opportunities” for employees to review and practice their new skills.

Finally, while health care employees are often resistant to tests because they had to take so many in order to earn their credentials and obtain their jobs in the first place, Samot says it’s still important to include assessments in your training strategy. Help employees understand that having to recall information “solidifies learning”; tests, therefore, are not only a measurement tool but are actually a learning tool as well.

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