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Improving the Patient Experience Through the Employee Experience

Posted by: Ben Eubanks

Happy employees lead to happy patients. It makes sense, really. When staff members aren’t worried about bickering with the boss, not being recognized for their efforts, and receiving the right support and training, they can deliver a high-quality experience to the patients in their care. From simple job alignment to engaging in everyday activities, employees need to know that their work is valued. Altogether, these elements help to drive a great employee experience, and that is the foundation for a great patient experience as well.

Linking Engagement and the Patient Experience

In a recent post, I tentatively explored the link between engagement and business outcomes for healthcare firms. I received some insights from Megan Younkin, a consultant at Strategic Programs, that help to put it into perspective:

What we have seen is a connection between turnover in departments, and levels of engagement and satisfaction, with the immediate supervisor relationship connected to levels of engagement. In general, engagement is strongly linked to productivity, safety (patient and employee), absenteeism, and intention to stay.”

This Harvard Business Review article examines the linkage between engagement and healthcare business objectives.

For instance, by comparing employee attitude data with various organizational metrics from our clients’ systems, we’ve found that when employees believe their organization truly values quality care — and also get the support they need on the job — their patients are more satisfied, they take less sick time and have fewer on-the-job accidents, and health outcomes are better.

This is a great set of outcomes to examine, and it underscores the importance of engagement for healthcare organizations. Let’s take a look at a practical example of this concept in action.

Inova Healthcare’s Story  

I previously worked with a hospital on a related issue. Inova, a Virginia-based healthcare organization, was experiencing some turnover issues among its nursing population. As we have seen with many clients, this impact on turnover was tightly linked to their level of engagement. Nurses were coming on board and were quickly transitioning to a disengaged state due to poor job fit, ultimately leaving the hospital. The organization realized it needed to focus on the problem because it was starting to affect its ability to serve patients well.

The hospital introduced a personality assessment into the hiring process as a way to ensure the proper selection and fit for new nursing candidates. The assessment was oriented towards two nursing groups—those working in operating rooms and those in the emergency room. It was believed that each group has a different set of personality traits and characteristics which might make them suitable for different types of jobs.

Upon the launch of the assessment, Inova was able to assign new hires to the right roles. As an example, nurses with a more nurturing demeanor were placed in an emergency room setting, allowing them to use those skills to comfort patients and families under duress. At the same time, nurses that tended to be more focused and analytical were put into operating room environments, allowing their natural abilities to assist them in the job.

Almost immediately, retention started to improve and patient satisfaction began to climb, holding true to the idea that job fit ties into engagement and intent to stay. The hospital was seeing a direct correlation between the engagement of its employees and the satisfaction of its patients. The critical and minor difference was simply moving them into the right positions, allowing the organization to keep these health professionals as long-term employees.

Seeing Financial Returns

Improving employee engagement and the patient experience can both impact a healthcare organization’s bottom line. Megan explained one critical reason this matters for healthcare firms:

We are hearing from clients about the struggle between patient satisfaction and employee engagement. There is a huge focus on patient satisfaction because of the impact that patient satisfaction scores have on hospital reimbursements.”

Hospital HCAHPS scores, a method used to reimburse the firm for Medicare-related treatments, have become the “holy grail” of metrics for organizations. Doctors, nurses, and other staff are constantly briefed on the hospital’s scores and how they affect reimbursements and revenue. Organizations believe that helping to make everyone aware of the ultimate business outcomes can help drive the importance of the patient experience. We’ve all heard the adage, “What gets measured gets done,” and that is the purpose of the firm’s relentless focus on these scores.

On the engagement side, there are numerous studies pointing to the financial benefits of engaged workers. This article touches on the topic:

“When people feel motivated, they perform better. In fact, our research shows that high levels of employee engagement can boost revenue growth by up to two and a half times. Motivation means money.”

It’s clear that the employee experience will closely mirror the patient experience, whether good or bad. How are your employees delivering an amazing experience for your patients today?

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