Background: Concern over the frequency of unintended harm to patients has focused attention on the importance of teamwork and communication in avoiding errors. This has led to experiments with teamwork training programmes for clinical staff, mostly based on aviation models. These are widely assumed to be effective in improving patient safety, but the extent to which this assumption is justified by evidence remains unclear.
Methods: A systematic literature review on the effects of teamwork training for clinical staff was performed. Information was sought on outcomes including staff attitudes, teamwork skills, technical performance, efficiency and clinical outcomes.
Results: Of 1036 relevant abstracts identified, 14 articles were analysed in detail: four randomized trials and ten non-randomized studies. Overall study quality was poor, with particular problems over blinding, subjective measures and Hawthorne effects. Few studies reported on every outcome category. Most reported improved staff attitudes, and six of eight reported significantly better teamwork after training. Five of eight studies reported improved technical performance, improved efficiency or reduced errors. Three studies reported evidence of clinical benefit, but this was modest or of borderline significance in each case. Studies with a stronger intervention were more likely to report benefits than those providing less training. None of the randomized trials found evidence of technical or clinical benefit.
Conclusion: The evidence for technical or clinical benefit from teamwork training in medicine is weak. There is some evidence of benefit from studies with more intensive training programmes, but better quality research and cost-benefit analysis are needed.