Improving Patient Satisfaction in Hospitals With Employee Engagement

Healthcare is one of today’s hottest political topics. Across the country, journalists, legislators, hospital administrators, and voters are asking how we can improve the American healthcare system without sacrificing the quality of care. Some are calling for a nationalized healthcare system. Others claim that the American system is broken because doctors are paid according to how many procedures they carry out, rather than how well they care for each patient. And yet healthcare systems across the country have discovered an approach that makes hospitals more efficient and effective: tracking and boosting employee engagement. Our research has shown that hospitals with higher levels of employee engagement also enjoy higher levels of patient satisfaction, quality outcomes, and staff retention. This article will explain how two healthcare organizations improved operations by researching and boosting their employee engagement.

Sanford Health, a healthcare provider with over 10,000 employees across four states, knew that in order to be a leader in health care, they needed to increase productivity and cooperation among employees, while boosting the quality of care and the number of positive outcomes. They decided to take an Employee Engagement Management (EEM) approach to help meet and surpass their goals.

The first step Sanford Health took was conducting an organization-wide study to learn the existing drivers of employee engagement. The results of this employee survey revealed areas of focus to increase engagement. Once the survey results were compiled and analyzed, over 400 managers were granted access to an online EEM tool. The tool allowed managers to analyze survey results and develop detailed Action Plans for their teams. Upper management could review and track managers’ Action Plans, determine areas of improvement, track progress, and share Action Plans across the organization. Thanks to actionable results and easy-to-use management tools, Sanford continues to boost employee engagement and improve patient outcomes.

Since 2002, Lifespan, has been improving operations using an EEM solution. Based in Providence, RI, Lifespan employs 11,800 employees and 2,700 physicians. To track engagement over time, Lifespan surveys all employees on a biennial basis. In the years in-between these system-wide surveys, pulse surveys are delivered to a statistically representative slice of Lifespan employees. Electronic focus groups are also conducted to gain in-depth insight into the key drivers of engagement. Finally, each Lifespan hospital’s human resources records on turnover, overtime, and work done was analyzed to evaluate whether EEM delivers positive business outcomes.

All of this data showed a system-wide driver for employee engagement: caring for employees. Each hospital also determined specific engagement drivers at its facility. These results were used to create site- and department-specific Action Plans to increase engagement.

The results of Lifespan’s EEM work were impressive. A pulse survey conducted a year in showed significant improvement in engagement scores. Additionally, more Lifespan employees felt that management was committed to acting on survey results. Furthermore, Lifespan was able to establish a correlation between employee engagement and patient satisfaction: ratings of care and likelihood to recommend the hospital improved. Lifespan’s excellence in its employee engagement practices was recognized at a national healthcare conference in 2006, where Lifespan was awarded a Best Practices award.

So why does employee engagement management improve patient outcomes at hospitals? Why does it improve hospital operations?

First, EEM works because healthcare is a people-based industry. Nurses, doctors, and other health professionals that serve together often feel bonded by life and death situations. If those workers feel supported and respected by their managers, they are more likely to feel enthusiastic about their work. Passionate, dedicated employees are more productive, period. Second, EEM improves retention. When healthcare employees feel jazzed about their workplace, they’re more likely to stay for the long haul. This allows them to better understand the procedures and requirements of their workplace. Basically, when healthcare employees are engaged, they are personally invested in their work. They find fulfillment in their work, and are more likely to stay in that environment.

Many people feel that they perform under their potential at work. If their job represents little more than a paycheck, why should they act otherwise? Everyday, employees decide (consciously or unconsciously) whether they will go above and beyond the basic expectations of their position. When they are engaged in their work, they have the motivation to strive for their very best. As Peter Lanser wrote in an article on healthcare workers’ engagement for HR Pulse, “Engagement is when your employees give it their all, not because you are paying or rewarding them to do so, but because it is who they are. Their own personal identity is caught up in the performance of their job, and their personal identity and their work role identity become one and the same.” Like workers in other industries, healthcare workers are more likely to produce excellent work when they are engaged with their work. Engaged healthcare workers provide more efficient, better patient care, making employee engagement management an excellent approach for improving patient outcomes, as we have seen.

~ Monica Nolan, 2009