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Debriefing Medical Teams: 12 Evidence-Based Best Practices and Tips

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Background: Medical teams are commonly called on to perform complex tasks, and when those tasks involve saving the lives of critically injured patients, it is imperative that teams perform optimally. Yet, medical care settings do not always lend themselves to efficient teamwork. The human factors and occupational sciences literatures concerning the optimization of team performance suggest the usefulness of a debriefing process—either for critical incidents or recurring events. Although the debrief meeting is often used in the context of training medical teams, it is also useful as a continuous learning tool throughout the life of the team.

What Are Good Debriefs? An Overview: The debriefing process allows individuals to discuss individual and team level performance, identify errors made, and develop a plan to improve their next performance.

Best Practices and Tips for Debriefing Teams: The Debrief Process: The list of 12 best practices and tips—4 for hospital leaders and the remainder for debrief facilitators or team leaders—should be useful for teams performing in various high-risk areas, including operating rooms, intensive care units, and emergency departments. The best practices and tips should help teams to identify weak areas of teamwork and develop new strategies to improve teamwork competencies. Moreover, they include practices that support both regular, recurring debriefs and critical-incident debriefings. Team members should follow these main guidelines—also provided in checklist form—which include ensuring that the organization creates a supportive learning environment for debriefs (concentrating on a few critical performance issues), providing feedback to all team members, and recording conclusions made and goals set during the debrief to facilitate future feedback.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2008

More about this publication?
  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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