Providing Constructive Feedback in Healthcare

Last Updated: 21 August 2022

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Healthcare is built on teamwork and collaboration, and no matter how much you try, members of your team will make mistakes (including you!). As a result, feedback is constantly moving between healthcare professionals.

But how do you provide feedback effectively and empathetically? And what does it mean if it’s ‘constructive’?

What is ‘constructive’ feedback?

Constructive feedback is a type of feedback that aims for a positive outcome by growing the person’s skills or abilities.

For example, plain feedback may be if you were to say, ‘you reported that incident incorrectly.'

Constructive feedback, however, would be, ‘you reported that incident incorrectly; this is what you did wrong and this is how to do it correctly next time.’

Why do healthcare professionals benefit from constructive feedback?

All professionals in all industries benefit from receiving and providing constructive feedback because it strengthens team relationships, creates an accountable workplace, and ensures continuous improvement. Additionally, providing clear and valuable feedback can give you the tools you need to become a great leader.

It’s particularly important in healthcare due to the high-stakes nature of the work. Making the same mistakes repeatedly can put a patient’s life in danger.

Constructive feedback is especially important during the healthcare industry’s current understaffing as a result of the unprecedented fallout from the pandemic. New healthcare professionals and workers may be exposed to more advanced areas of practice faster due to understaffing, which means they have to utilise workplace feedback as an opportunity to learn new essential skills.

How do you provide constructive feedback?

Make sure you’re the right person to give feedback

Sometimes, it won’t be your role to provide feedback to a colleague.

If you’re unsure whether you’re the best person to deliver feedback to your colleague, ask your manager for guidance.

If you have expertise in the area but don’t know your colleague particularly well or haven’t been working together for long, maybe pass your observation on to someone who knows them better. However, this must be done tactfully so that it doesn’t resemble gossiping.

Show that you trust them

It’s essential that you show your colleague that, despite the mistake, you still trust them as an effective member of your team. If you were having doubts about whether they're good enough to stay in your team, you wouldn't deliver feedback to them: you’d call for a performance review and let management take it from there.

In order to show that you still trust them, soften the constructive feedback by reminding them that everyone makes mistakes and it’s not the end of the world. You could say something like, ‘I did something similar when I was first learning about this, and this is what a mentor told me.’

Keep your feedback specific and objective

Keep your feedback as concise and close to the event as possible.

It’s not helpful to overwhelm someone by referring to the other six mistakes they’d made that day: at that point, you’re giving them an unsolicited performance review.

Instead, focus on the mistake at hand. Tell them exactly what was done incorrectly and remain objective: if you’re frustrated, ask them calmly why they performed the task that way.

Deliver your feedback face-to-face

In keeping with the second point, it’s important for you to deliver the feedback in person.

First, it’s easier for the other person to ask questions when you’re face to face. Two-way conversations are a core tenet of effective feedback because they give the person the opportunity to delve deeper into what they did incorrectly and why the other way of doing it is more effective or safer.

More importantly, however, delivering face-to-face feedback includes body language. Feedback using only words can be perceived as an attack: when you incorporate body language – such as smiling, opening your hands towards them, or keeping eye contact – the feedback almost immediately becomes non-threatening and non-passive-aggressive. As most healthcare professionals would know, body language is influential when relaying important information.

Deliver your feedback fast

You must deliver your feedback as quickly as possible, ideally within two days of the mistake (at the very latest).

This is for two reasons: first, you need to be as specific as possible, and the more time that passes usually means you’ll remember things with less clarity and the feedback will be of lower quality.

Second, you need to make your feedback actionable as soon as possible so that the mistake isn’t repeated. This is for the safety of those in the person’s care, as well as for the reputation of your team and your organisation.

Is there anything else to learn about feedback?

Last week, we published a piece that provides guidance on receiving constructive feedback: How to be Coachable in Healthcare | Ausmed.

Each week, The Handover publishes articles that sit at the intersection of learning and healthcare, and provide you with new ways of conceptualising and achieving your goals. To receive updates, subscribe to The Handover’s weekly newsletter.

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