Six Tools for Improving Communications with TeamSTEPPS®



As HR professionals, we often challenged by the way people communicate. Developing soft skills in teams is a critical for your team of experts to function as an expert team. In healthcare, >70 of medical errors have a communication component making the challenge even more critical to our customers.

TeamSTEPPS® (Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety) is a training system developed by the Department of Defense and run by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). It is described as an “evidence-based teamwork system to improve communication and teamwork skills among health care professionals.”

Here are six tools from TeamSTEPPS® that can be applied in any environment to assist teams in communicating more effectively.

A “call out” is verbally recognizing a change in current conditions. If the patient’s blood pressure starts to drop, a team member will tell the team by saying that it is dropping and mentioning the new value.

A call out works best when paired with a “check-back”. That is when the team leader would close to loop on the communication by acknowledging the change in pressure. Many medication errors are also prevented when a team member preforms a check-back on the requested medication and dose.

Healthcare teams “huddle” like sports teams prior to patient engagement. This ensures that teams are clear on the objectives of the encounter and work that needs to be accomplished.

An “SBAR” or “SBARq” is used when handing off patients between teams and some providers use it in other types of communication such as emails. It provides a structure to communication to facilitate active listening.

  • Situation tells the consultant who you are and defines the problem
  • Background provides information pertinent to care such as the history, vital signs, and laboratory values
  • Assessment is the time to tell if this is life threatening or hone attention on to any specific findings that need immediate attention
  • Recommendations are given for specific needs and define time lines that are critical for care
  • A questions section has also been added by some teams to remind everyone of the importance of speaking up

“Task assistance” comes in when training teams to watch of overloading of individual team members or listening for opportunities for them to help other team members.

The “Two-Challenge Rule” is important for empowering team members to “stop the line” if an initial assertive statement is ignored. The team member challenged needs to acknowledge that the concern has been heard. If it is a safety issue, the chain of command can be brought in to assist with a resolution.

Using these tools is key for developing strong communication networks in healthcare.  Mutual trust and empowerment has been shown to enhance team performance. Using these techniques also facilitates the development of a team “Shared Mental Model” of what is going on and what will be needed next.

TeamSTEPPS® training materials are available online and can be used by HR professionals in developing their own teams.


Healthcare Simulation Week is September 11th through 15th this year. If you are interested in learning more about these techniques or how they could apply to your industry, check out the #HcSimWeek hashtag.



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