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Learning from collaboration

Getting staff from different nursing disciplines together to share information is an effective way to improve patient care and enhance staff knowledge in key areas such as falls.

Getting staff from different nursing disciplines together to share information is an effective way to improve patient care and enhance staff knowledge in key areas such as falls.

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I am part of a group of academics and NHS practice staff that formed a ‘community of practice’ (CoP) team. Its aim is to investigate how effective flooring is in preventing injuries from inpatient falls in a hospital setting.

Practice staff reported that establishing links with colleagues at the university helped develop their research skills, while academics found working in collaboration with practice partners informed their teaching.

Improving patient safety and quality of care is high on the agenda of academics and healthcare staff alike. But it can be challenging for individual staff to interpret the vast range of literature and research evidence base available. One solution is for a group with an interest in a particular issue to share their expertise and learn together.

The term CoP, originally proposed in the 1990s, was seen as a central element in the learning relationship between novice and expert. A CoP is often made up of people who do not necessarily work together on a day-to-day basis and can be from different professions, getting together to explore ideas (see resources).

This happened in the falls group. In 2013, two academic staff from Coventry University with an interest in rehabilitation were invited to a Falls Forum meeting with practice staff from nearby University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, where the problems of inpatient falls and the impact of flooring surface were raised. Some staff were keen to explore the issue further, and five opted to work in a CoP.

After a second meeting they concluded that the question they wanted to answer was: ‘In a hospital setting, how effective is compliant flooring in preventing injuries resulting from inpatient falls?’ The group is now writing up its findings and submitting a report to the trust’s Falls Forum, which can use the information when refurbishing its facilities.

The CoP group faced challenges along the way. One was ensuring scheduled meetings went ahead, as members were working for two different organisations with different demands and priorities.

Staff felt more motivated after face-to-face meetings, and even if some members were not free, the scheduled meetings for the most part went ahead. The group used email to keep communicating.

Deadlines such as preparing the report and a presentation for a conference helped motivate them as, unlike funded projects, the group did not have outcome targets with timelines imposed.

The opportunities to develop personally, inform practice and enhance patient safety have collectively motivated members and inspired new membership.

Enhancing research skills by further training, use of social media or better IT to facilitate collaboration, and funding to support team members so they can commit more time to the CoP, are areas being considered.


Further information

A systematic review of the literature on communities of practice in the healthcare sector

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