Quality standards are the bedrock of effective education. In their simplest form standards are a tool to help care providers define what learners should know and be able to do at each level of their practice.
They also create an invaluable reference point for planning future teaching programs and assessing practical competence (Social Sciences, Health, and Education Library 2020). Not only do they help protect the public from harm, but they also help to improve the quality of care provided in aged care services.
What are ‘Standards’?
In both aged care training and disability care training, quality standards such as those outlined by The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (2020) and the NDIS Practice Standards (2020) are used in the accreditation process as a quality assurance tool. Part of their purpose is to help organisations assess if their systems and processes are reaching the minimum expected standards of safety and quality. They also provide a nationally consistent standard of care that consumers and their families can trust and expect. This is important because as the National Safety and Quality Health Standards (NSQHS 2017) states, leaders of health service organisations have a responsibility to the community for continuous improvement of the safety and quality of their services. Quality checks also have a role to play in ensuring that care remains person-centred, safe and effective.
So how are these standards established? Who decides what they are and why are they so important?
Where do ‘Standards’ Come From?
Many healthcare standards have their origins in legislation or a set of clearly defined principles, for example, The Aged Care Act 1997 provides a nationally consistent statement of the level of care consumers can expect from aged care organisations by providing regulations and guidance that dictate how the provisions of the Act are applied. For example, in relation to education and training Standard 7 of the Aged Care Quality Standards states that:
7 (1) I get quality care and services when I need them from people who are knowledgeable, capable and caring.
7 (2) The organisation has a workforce that is sufficient and is skilled and qualified to provide safe, respectful and quality care and services.
7 (3) (c) The workforce is competent, and members of the workforce have the qualifications and knowledge to effectively perform their roles.
7 (3) (d)The workforce is recruited, trained, equipped and supported to deliver the outcomes required by these standards.”
Why do ‘Standards’ Matter?
Standards such as The Aged Care Quality Standards (2020) are important not only because they support consumers to know what ‘good care’ looks and feels like, but also because they help providers understand how to establish specific standards of care in practice (Ausmed 2019). One way to think of this is to view standards as an expectation of the care and service consumers can expect to receive. Education is a vehicle to help staff navigate their way towards best practice. In other words, standards help to guide and motivate staff to provide quality care and service. There is a legislative and funding expectation that all staff have a shared understanding and commitment to the standards.
What is the Relationship Between Education and ‘Standards’?
Maintaining high standards of practice in alignment with government guidelines requires a multifaceted approach along with multiple interventions that all contribute to the end goal of meeting the Standards and maintaining compliance. A key intervention to maintain standards has always been education, and even though quality assessment and education are different, they are also inextricably linked with education. They are often used as a tool to focus on addressing the challenges that can arise in meeting a particular Standard.
How Does Education Help to Meet the ‘Standards’?
Whilst it’s true that education can’t solve all a provider’s challenges in meeting the Standards it does go a long way to support everyday practice by addressing identified gaps in knowledge, or clinical practice.
For education to be truly effective the learner must be able to put what they have learnt into practice. Rather than taking a blanket approach to staff training, many providers are now realising the benefits of targeted education for selected skills, or specific job roles. For example, specific training sessions can be offered to close a knowledge gap such as equipment updates, or as an important update following an adverse event.
One danger learning and development managers face, however, lies in assuming that an educational gap of knowledge skills or practice, is the source of a problem when a particular standard fails to be met. Whereas, in practice, the cause may be elsewhere, such as in a lack of appropriate resources. This is why it’s so important for organisational learning managers to stop and ask some key questions to unveil the source of the problem before deciding on the most appropriate solution. For example, helpful questions to ask could include:
Why specifically wasn’t this standard fully achieved?
Is it an issue that education can resolve?
Is education needed for all members of staff, or is targeted education for a select set of job roles or staff more appropriate?
Aligning Organisational Training with the Standards
Aligning training and education programs with the latest government standards can be a challenge for many care providers, particularly as there is often no link between an organisation’s internal training system and the applicable standards. This can leave providers feeling unsure if they are adequately fulfilling their compliance requirements.
Recognising this problem, Ausmed’s online training platform has been designed with several Quality Standards built-in so that organisational managers can easily see the amount of staff training that relates to each standard. Another key benefit is the ability to significantly improve reporting capabilities, for example, managers can easily present training metrics to heads of departments to ensure they are satisfying internal quality outcomes. Some of the quality frameworks already built-in to Ausmed’s platform include:
Aged Care Quality Standards for residential and home care
NDIS Practice Standards for disability care
National Safety and Quality Health Standards (NSQHS) for healthcare organisations including Mental Health Services
Ultimately meeting the ‘Standards’ requires a holistic approach which includes helping all staff ‘join the dots’ and create a culture of learning where education is seen as pleasurable, meaningful and enjoyable, rather than as a corrective measure for failing to meet specific goals. After all, staff training and education shouldn’t just be seen as a necessary ‘add-on’ to the duties of care. It’s so much more than that and can help providers to meet the minimum required standards of care in a way that is engaging and rewarding for everyone.