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Travel Budget Cuts Don't Have to Mean Cuts in Learning

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Like jobs, capital projects, and other discretionary expenditures, travel budgets are being slashed at healthcare organizations nationwide, but that doesn't mean hospitals aren't sending their people to training. In fact, many feel they have made lasting changes in the way they educate their employees.

Phyllis Vonderheide, director of service excellence and educational resources at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center, a 235-licensed bed hospital in Sleepy Hollow, NY, is responsible for staffwide education, other than the independent medical staff. She says like many areas in the hospital, which is part of the Stellaris Health Network of four hospitals in the suburbs surrounding New York City, her budget for travel is under more scrutiny than ever since the economic downturn.

"We encourage people to go to local programs that don't really involve a lot of overnight stays. That's always been our standard, but I'm a little bit more critical these days to see if travel is really needed," she says.

Strength in numbers
Being part of a four-hospital system has its advantages. Among them is the ability to access experts at their own hospitals and to gather employees for centrally located training, often at a Phelps hospital—meaning there's no need to book expensive gathering space at hotels or convention facilities.

"We've only gone to an outside speaker a few times," Vonderheide says. Additionally, the hospitals have formed a leadership development council that provides four leadership seminars annually. The cost is shared. Phelps and Vonderheide are also taking advantage of a recently expanded offering from VHA Inc., a cooperative with about 1,400 member hospitals, that features satellite television learning as well as Web-based education.

The satellite programs, with few exceptions, are free to VHA members, and often are free even to nonmembers, says John Pevoto, director of VHATV.

Almost all such programs are clinical in nature, and might focus on various disease states, for example, or clinical and supply chain education. Presenters are often VHA members, but some programs are funded by grants from outside organizations, and may be produced outside VHA. The co-op has also recently developed a Webcast option with different educational offerings—still mostly clinically focused.

Pevoto says while viewership for the satellite offerings has been relatively flat since the beginning of the recession, the Webcast offerings are growing quite well, from averaging 100 viewers to about 300 recently.

"Anecdotally, many of our members are telling us, ‘We can't come to the conferences, and can't travel to meetings anymore,'" says Pevoto. "We have seen a downtick in registrations for our live events."

Pevoto says he can't make a direct connection between the drop in registrations for live events and the poor economy, "but we can draw our own conclusions."

Vonderheide says her employees take advantage of VHA's Webcasts whenever appropriate.

"When you purchase a subscription you can see them for so many weeks afterward," she says. "There is always networking that's good around those too," she says. "It's like being at a conference, with all the benefits and few of the costs."

Philip Betbeze

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