How to Support Clinicians and Team Members Involved in a Harm Event

June 25, 2021

Several physicians missed a positive Group B strep blood culture result on a postpartum woman. The delay in diagnosis and treatment of the infection resulted in sepsis with pyomyositis. The woman was later diagnosed with septic arthritis in her hip joints and underwent a bilateral hip replacement.

Multiple physicians and other team members were involved in the care of this patient and all expressed feelings of guilt and remorse for letting this young woman down by missing her diagnosis because of a failure to review blood culture results and communicate with each other at transitions of care. They all recognized, too, that had processes been in place to prevent follow-up system failures and manage communication at transitions of care, this harm event could have been prevented.

Does your organization have an internal peer support program to provide care for clinicians and team members involved in a harm event?

Constellation support teams involved in harm event

Caregiver Stress

Harm events, malpractice claims and lawsuits can drain the passion and compassion of even the most confident clinicians and health care professionals. But the impact doesn’t end there. When clinicians and team members struggle, their health care organizations also feel the negative impact. Clinicians under the stress of a harm event or litigation may see fewer patients, disrupt care team cohesion or leave the organization– actions that lower productivity, raise costs and detract from staff and patient satisfaction.

Clinicians and other care team members involved in harm events can become emotionally traumatized. To help them cope with feelings of guilt, remorse and/or sadness, organizations can implement a dedicated peer support program.

How to Implement a Caring for the Caregiver Program

Peer support programs are so effective in part because they’re accessible to all, unlike employee assistance programs (EAPs), which are available only to employees.

Organizations need to help facilitate the development of these programs at a local level. Peer support should be an essential component in any health care organization’s mission to care for the caregiver.”

Dr. Laurie Drill-Mellum, Chief Medical Officer Emerita at Constellation

Dr. Drill-Mellum offers this advice for starting a grassroots peer support program:

  1. Decide whom your program will support. Will your program support clinicians, or all members of the care team? Make sure the program aligns with other team wellness projects and engage leaders to provide needed support and resources.
  2. Select volunteers mindfully. Peer support colleagues need to step out of the mindset of fixing and prescribing and be able to listen. The best team members are those who are known as compassionate and trustworthy. Team members who have experienced a harm event themselves are often good peer supporters.
  3. Train volunteers thoughtfully. Training may include how to listen in times of grief, loss, shame and guilt—and how to be helpful, not harmful, in a support role.
  4. Spread the word. Finding peer support should be easy and normalized. Team members should know where to go to seek help or to confidentially refer others for peer support. Leaders and risk personnel should refer individuals directly to peer support after a harm event.

Constellation Clinician Peer Support Program

Constellation’s Clinician Peer Support Program (CPSP) is offered to policyholders who are involved in a harm event as part of our HEAL Program. Peer support aims to help clinicians and other health care professionals navigate the landmines of a harm event, claim, or lawsuit, and maintain the strength and perspective to continue to see patients, work productively with others, and still find satisfaction in what they do. When clinicians and care teams are supported in managing their emotional wellbeing, they’re more likely to: 

  • Continue to be focused, productive members of the care team
  • Remain with the practice instead of pursuing other employment or retiring early
  • Maintain healthy and trusting relationships with  their patients

Doing Better After a Harm Event: HEAL Prepare Toolkit

Our HEAL Prepare Toolkit helps your organization prepare for harm events so you can respond quickly and effectively. The Toolkit includes a unit on moving forward after a harm event that contains assessments, best practices, sample tools and coaching. Start your journey by taking the HEAL Assessment and then the Action Plan will guide you through the Toolkit’s four units: (1) culture, (2) event response, (3) patient communication, and (4) moving forward. Sign in to to access the HEAL Prepare Toolkit found in Risk Resources.

Constellation’s HEAL program provides healing benefits for care teams and their organizations because we truly believe that what’s good for care teams is good for business.

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