Healthcare Employee Engagement and Patient Safety

Senior Director of Marketing

Does your healthcare organization have an engaged team? Employee engagement is an important initiative for healthcare HR. So important, in fact, that it’s this year’s theme for the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) Annual Conference. However, what makes employee engagement so important for HR? According to Gallup’s research, employee engagement is a leading factor of future business success, including outcomes such as turnover, profitability and productivity.

For healthcare organizations, however, success is strongly tied to patient care. In Towers Watson’s research, when hospitals create an engaging and high-performance-oriented work experience, they not only improve patient satisfaction but also quality of care outcomes. As healthcare has transitioned to a value-based purchasing model, this brings tremendous financial value to an organization from a reimbursement perspective.

While maintaining an engaged workforce is key focus for HR departments across all industries as it is tied to several business success outcomes, healthcare HR has a unique opportunity to also improve patient safety. A 2013 study by Gallup and Loma Linda University Medical Center shows that employee engagement and employee safety work together to enhance patient safety. When engagement is high, its positive influence on employee safety creates a compounding effect on patient safety culture, the study finds.

With this relationship in mind, consider the following 2015 study from the Journal of Patient Safety.

Engaging Employees, High-Performance Work Systems, and Patient Safety

In their study on high-performance work systems, researchers Jason M. Etchegaray, PhD and Eric J. Thomas, MD, MPH examined the associations between these systems and teamwork culture, safety culture, and overall patient safety grade. In their research, Etchegaray and Thomas define high-performance work systems as “an integrated set of work practices that result in engaged employees and positive individual-, unit-, or organizational-level outcomes.”

According to their study, high-performance work systems were found to be a strong predictor of the overall patient safety grade as well as for employees speaking up. According to Etchegaray and Thomas, the evidence “suggests that when employees are engaged because of the presence of these workplace practices, they are more comfortable speaking up about patient safety and view overall patient safety in a more positive way.”

3 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

Now that you understand how employee engagement can affect patient safety, here are a few actionable ways from the 2016 American Organization of Nurse Executives Annual Meeting your organization can use to improve engagement levels:

1. Empathy Exercises - Press Ganey Chief Nursing Officer Christine Dempsey suggests including empathy exercises in staff training.
2. Connecting with Patients - Dempsey stressed the importance of forging bonds with patients, as it can lead to information sharing that can help caregivers provider better care.
3. Eliminate Negativity - Bob Dent, Senior Vice President, COO and CNO at Midland Memorial Hospital, shared how discouraging employees from gossiping or complaining excessively can eliminate emotional negativity while creating a positive workplace environment that supports patient safety.

Have you found that employee engagement has improved patient safety at your organization? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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