Development of a behavioural marker system for the non-technical skills of junior doctors in acute care
Mellanby, Edward Alexander
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Introduction: Newly qualified doctors are frequently first to the scene in managing acutely unwell in-patients. Failures in clinical assessment, basic management and early escalation of care lead to avoidable patient morbidity and mortality. Analyses of adverse events have highlighted the importance of non-technical skills training to improve patient safety. These are a combination of cognitive (such as decision making) and social skills (such as team working), which complement knowledge and technical ability, and contribute to safe and effective care. In order to train and assess junior doctors in these skills, we must first have an accurate understanding of what they involve. This research project was designed to identify the critical non-technical skills required by junior doctors to manage acutely unwell patients safely and effectively. It aimed to develop a tool to observe these skills that could be used in training, assessment and research. Method: A literature review was used to develop an initial framework to categorise the non-technical skills required in this domain. Twenty-nine in depth semi-structured interviews were then completed with junior doctors. A critical incident technique was utilised: Junior doctors were asked to recall a challenging case in which they managed an acute medical emergency. Interviews were transcribed and coded using template analysis. A panel of subject matter experts were then consulted in order to refine this framework and develop an assessment tool for observing these skills. This involved two focus groups and an iterative process, returning to the original data to verify any changes. Results: Four categories of critical non-technical skills were identified: Situation awareness, decision-making, task management and teamwork. Each of these had between three and four sub-categories. Descriptors, exemplar behaviours and an assessment scale were developed to allow these non-technical skills to be observed and rated using a behavioural marker system. During the development of this tool, exploration of the data revealed the influence of factors such as hierarchy and culture on the behaviour of junior doctors. Conclusions: The performance of newly qualified doctors in acute care is influenced by the complex clinical environments in which they work. This can have profound implications for patient outcomes. The framework developed by this research allows us to be explicit about the types of behaviours that are required to keep patients safe. If this tool can be integrated into clinical training, then it could be used by clinicians to support the development of safe and effective skills and reduce the current level of avoidable patient harm.