Creating Safer Healthcare for Patients Using High Reliability Principles


photo of Wanda Jenkins, MS, RNIn high-risk settings like hospitals, healthcare organizations can apply high reliability practices and principles to create a culture of safety that benefits patients and staff. In this interview with Wanda Jenkins, MS, RN, a retired Army nurse with over 37 years of clinical experience and Senior Program Manager and Executive Leader Coach for Cognosante’s High Reliability Organization (HRO) Support team, Wanda shares her perspective on how applying the principles of HRO helps government health organizations get closer to achieving “zero harm.” 

What is a High Reliability Organization? Why is it important in a healthcare environment? 

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Patient Safety Network describes a High Reliability Organization as one that operates for an extended period of time in a complex, high-hazard domain without serious accidents or catastrophic failure. During such times, healthcare organizations apply HRO practices and principles to create a culture of safety that impacts both the patient and team experience.  

In today’s volatile health care environment, Cognosante guides healthcare organizations in high reliability practice integration. Our high reliability work involves leadership coaching for hospital executives and teams in large, integrated healthcare systems. We focus on both clinical and non-clinical leader engagement at all levels of the organization to empower teams, strengthen HRO infrastructure, and accelerate learning that promotes psychological safety and builds trust 

Utilization of high-reliability principles enables healthcare leaders and teams to tackle evolving challenges, thereby reducing risk and improving outcomes. Between rapid advances in equipment and technology, frequent updates of clinical practice methodology and treatment modalities, and emerging public health threats, practitioners in HRO environments are more equipped at adapting in an ever-changing landscape.  

How can high reliability principles help provide healing and promote hope for the betterment of all? 

We must be committed to care excellence in our goal of improving health outcomes for women’s health and all populations. When we engage and communicate with an outward mindset, listen for understanding, respect diversity and values, and are inclusive in care planning and decision-making processes, we deliver high reliability healthcare for every patient – including the most historically vulnerable segments of society, regardless of gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, or any other factor. The impact of applying these behaviors demonstrates our authentic commitment to focusing on the health, well-being, and the betterment of all entrusted to our care. 

What improvements are healthcare organizations experiencing as a result of our HRO leadership coaching? 

We engage directly with high-performing leaders and teams to improve HRO organizational success, effectiveness, outcomes, and ultimately the patient and team experience. Our leaders study high reliability principles and practices including team training, improvement methodology, just culture, psychological safety, and burnout. They apply mature HRO foundational practices such as leader rounding, safety huddles, and safety forums. Supported by visual management systems, this enables cross-functional communication and messaging, improved collaboration, and performance monitoring. Our leaders and teams readily exchange HRO information and integrate change management strategies to improves results in ways that are sustained over time, actively supporting high reliability processes and our commitment to zero harm. 

I am honored to work with high-impact healthcare leaders in solving some of their organizations’ biggest challenges. Working together and bringing our HRO subject matter expertise, critical insight, diverse experiences, and varying perspective has allowed us to connect, build, and coach with relevance and leverage engagements for meaningful high reliability organizational outcomes. 

Learn more about how Cognosante helps healthcare organizations improve safety in hospital settings, and aids them in their journeys to become High Reliability Organizations.

This interview was originally posted in observation of Women’s History Month 2022, in recognition of Cognosante supporting “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” for the betterment of all.

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