Improving Healthcare: The Process for Debriefing Critical Events

Dealing with patient-to-staff aggression is a stressful and sometimes traumatic experience. For healthcare professionals to become effective in handling this type of critical event, they must become proficient in the use of techniques learned in management of aggressive behaviors courses.

Mastery of such techniques can take time, practice, and patience. Consistent and structured use of debriefing after aggressive encounters can also be an effective tool to help teams improve their performance in these situations.

Debriefing is a process to guide caregivers through an examination of a stressful critical event to understand and learn from what occurred. Thorough debriefing fosters an organizational culture of safety that allows healthcare professionals to use what they learn from experiences to improve both performance and processes.

Debriefings typically occur as soon after a critical event as possible, but after everyone involved has calmed down and is in an emotional state to be able to discuss what happened. Typically, the timeline of events is reviewed, precipitating factors are discussed, and responses during the event are examined. The team discusses whether or not anything was missed that could have been addressed before the situation escalated, such as non-verbal or verbal cues. The team identifies what could be done differently to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future and commits to change.

This process, if done consistently, will help strengthen staff knowledge and skill resulting in improved performance in the future. It also helps build confidence and resilience as staff becomes more competent in their skills of dealing with aggressive behaviors.

LHA Trust Funds offers a sample debriefing form tool in our Behavioral Health Toolkit. This tool lists the steps for conducting a debriefing interview and provides a guide to open communication amongst staff members. View it here.

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The LHA Trust Funds Behavioral Health Toolkit is full of resources to help organizations improve care for behavioral health patients. This toolkit includes environmental risk assessments, sample debriefing forms, tips for a safer environment of care, webinars, and more. View it here.

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