Hospitals in the United States are undergoing a sea change in how they are compensated for treating patients under the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs – one that for the first time is tying payment to the quality, not quantity, of health care provided.
How much hospitals are paid for patient care is now linked to specific factors such as whether a heart attack patient receives medication within a half-hour of arrival, readmission rates, patient outcome indicators and even a survey asking patients whether hospital staff were communicative and helpful. If hospitals fall short, they can face cuts in compensation and even fines.
In other words, the quality of hospital care matters now more than ever.
Excelling at many of these best-in-class clinical standards comes down to whether front-line staff are doing a great job. And, in turn, that comes down to whether health providers feel engaged with their work.
Why Engaging Hospital Employes Really Matters
The importance of employee engagement at hospitals isn’t a new idea.
But the change is putting additional pressure on hospitals to make engagement a priority. And research shows there’s much work to be done.
Several years ago Gallup found that, when it comes to one key piece of the health care puzzle – nurses – their sense of employee engagement has a major impact on the quality of care. Gallup discovered that ensuring nurses feel connected can impact vital health outcomes, while another survey found that nurse engagement was the No. 1 variable linked to mortality – even more important than the number of nurses.
To pick one example of how employee engagement makes a difference and can save lives, Gallup found bloodstream infections were nearly 20 times more likely on less-engaged units at a leading hospital, while post-surgery infections rates were more than 50 times worse. As one VP of nursing put it, “An engaged nurse goes the extra mile to ensure the provision of safe, competent, and compassionate care.”
This finding is backed up by research done in Britain examining engagement among all health care workers in the NHS.
That analysis of the NHS staff survey revealed, among other things, that if engagement was improved by one standard deviation there would be a 2.4 percent drop in mortality rates – saving thousands of lives. Similarly, it discovered that if an additional 10 percent of health workers felt they could better contribute to making service improvements, the quality of care would improve to the effect that there would be 0.57 fewer cases of the antibiotic-resistant MRSA superbug per ten thousand bed days – seriously reducing rates of the deadly infection.
The study’s conclusion wasn’t surprising: “The more engaged staff members are, the better the outcomes for patients and the organisation generally.”
But making sure hospital staff are engaged enough to go that extra mile has traditionally been a challenge. A Towers Watson survey found that just under half of all US hospital employees felt highly engaged with their jobs. This is a flashing red warning sign for hospital administrators.
Improving Engagement, Improving Compensation
The importance of engagement in health care is obvious. Higher employee engagement rates mean hospitals will have better health outcomes, and secure more funding under the new Medicare rules. But you don’t have to be a US-based hospital to benefit from better health provider engagement, as the improvements in quality of care will benefit a health organization in numerous ways, and not just financial.
The question then is, how do you build engagement?
As a previous SoapBox blog post on another health care engagement study noted (and as the NHS health study confirms), engaging employees involves a sense of transparency and trust in the organization, giving them the opportunity to make improvements to their job, and making sure there’s a sense the organization values the employee’s work.
One way to hit these marks is to create a space for employees to share their ideas, opening a two-way channel of communication with front-line workers.