• Article
  • January 2, 2019

How You Can Improve Your Hospital's Effectiveness in 2019: Huddle Up

Huddles at Intermountain Healthcare cascade throughout the teams.

Each morning at 10 o'clock, Rene Olson gathers with about a dozen of her Intermountain Healthcare colleagues for a brief team huddle. Much like huddles common at health care facilities around the country, the 10- to 15-minute meeting alerts Olsen and her counterparts to key information from around the organization and helps set priorities for the coming day.

So what makes this daily huddle different? It's the culmination of more than 2,500 huddles that occur each morning across Intermountain's 23 hospitals, 170 clinics and 850,000-member health insurance plan.

"They're critical," says Olson, a senior adviser to Intermountain's chief operating officer, of the daily organization-wide team huddles. "They're critical to our caregivers' work on a regular basis to inform them and help them be the best they can be."

Key to success: Brief, rapidly cascading meetings

Team huddles are nothing new to Intermountain; they've been used at its facilities—including Primary Children's Hospital—for years. But Olson says there were previously only "pockets" of huddles with no overall coordination. That changed in April 2017, when Intermountain implemented system-wide huddles to ensure the organization's priorities, strategies and metrics were consistently being embraced and that any impediments could be identified and addressed quickly.

The keys elements of the process: they are brief—no more than 15 minutes—and they cascade rapidly throughout all Intermountain facilities and offices. It begins each day at 8:45 a.m. with more than 1,500 huddles comprised mostly of frontline health care teams and managers, known as Tier I groups.

Reporting from these huddles is discussed 15 minutes later in about 170 Tier II huddles, consisting primarily of hospital and clinic directors. This process continues up the chain of command, culminating with the Tier VI huddle at 10:00 a.m., made up of the organization's senior leadership team.

The immediate impact of the coordinated huddles has greatly improved communication across the organization. "It's an amazing change," Olson says. "Some of the things we're learning about by 10 a.m. could potentially have taken months for the leadership team to hear about, if they heard about it at all."

Huddles yield measurable results

The streamlined communication leads to improved outcomes. More than 540 action items from the huddles have been resolved, including:

  • Increased community access. The escalation process led to expanded phone and appointment availability in Intermountain's clinics, resulting in 90 percent of facilities meeting community access needs—up from 49 percent before the huddles.
  • Quick identification of potential disease outbreaks. Last year, Intermountain's facilities were able to rapidly ramp staffing and medication levels in response to a community-wide hepatitis B outbreak.
  • Incident response. The huddles allowed for better tracking and resolution of caregiver injuries and patient safety issues.
  • Supply availability. The huddles highlighted issues with how vendors were shipping replacement parts for imaging equipment; the resulting changes meant quicker fixes not only for Intermountain facilities but all institutions served by those vendors.

Advice for others

Learning how to effectively coordinate information from more than 2,500 team huddles every day, and reporting those findings back through the organization, requires patience. Intermountain reviews the process regularly and makes adjustments on a quarterly basis. For other organizations considering a similar program, Olsen says it's important to first assess your areas of need.

"Start with where you might have gaps—what don't you know," Olson says. "What are the things the executive leaders within the company don't have visibility into on a daily basis—the things they should know to lead their teams and help them meet the needs of their consumers."

Send questions or comments.