Observing your peers


Peer observation is an objective activity where one osteopath observes and offers feedback on another’s practice. Cardiff-based osteopath Brian McKenna explains how it works …

The aim of peer observation is to give you insight into what you do in everyday practice, with a view to improving quality, upholding standards and improving performance. Probably the best thing is that you gain instant feedback and can begin to act on it immediately.

My first experience of peer observation was while working in the education sector, where having others observing your practice is encouraged. We thought we would try a similar process at our clinic in Cardiff, and it has been a great success. Being observed can be nerve-racking, especially if you are not used to it. On the other hand, it is reassuring to have a colleague look at your practice and say they thought it was good.

Ultimately, being observed – and being the observer for someone else – gives you insight into your own practice that you wouldn’t otherwise have. We have used peer observation at our clinic for nearly three years. Like most new procedures, it has been time-consuming to introduce – we had to develop guidelines, then train and encourage colleagues – but we felt that its potential to improve our practice and our service to patients was such that the time spent on research, development and trialling would be worth it. In my experience, junior colleagues tend to worry about the process more, as they are less assured about their practice. Arguably, though, more senior osteopaths derive greater benefit from it, as it is longer since they have had their practice scrutinised by others.

I don’t want you to think that peer observation is something that we do every week; we aim for two to three times a year. Being in a group practice makes it easier, but if you work alone it should be possible to arrange for a friend or local colleague to observe you now and then, especially if you return the favour. Besides ensuring confidentiality and gaining patient consent, the key to good peer observation is providing good feedback. This should be specific, timely and delivered in a positive way, designed to address any shortcomings (whether minor or major). It should also cover the positive things observed. Giving feedback is an art and the way to become good at it is with practice, so I suggest you get stuck in!

As a clinic we have developed guidelines and forms for our osteopath staff to use, and a letter asking patients for their consent to have their consultation observed. The guidelines include advice on giving useful feedback – a vital element of successful peer observation. Along with the resources on this CPD website, you’re welcome to adapt our own guidelines for use in your own practice. Download the pdf to find out more.