How Healthcare Volunteers Help Improve Patient Care

How Healthcare Volunteers Help Improve Patient Care
Marketing Specialist

Volunteers come with many advantages for healthcare employers; they are the backbone of every hospital in our country. Healthcare volunteers play a crucial role and have an enormous impact within our community, says Julia Nelson, Vice President of Human Resources at Northern Hospital of Surry County (NHSC). “We recognize them for the immense contribution they make to the overall success of the hospital.”

To celebrate National Volunteer Week, April 12-18, 2015, healthcare organizations should recognize their volunteers and foster a culture of service by encouraging individuals to be active members in their community. This is an opportunity for organizations to highlight the significant role volunteers play in advancing patient engagement and quality care.

In the 2014 presidential proclamation, President Obama states, “[V]olunteers open doors of opportunity, pave avenues of success, fortify their communities, and lay the foundation for tomorrow's growth and prosperity.” I’d like to use this occasion to discuss healthcare volunteer recruitment best practices and why volunteerism is important for healthcare organizations.

Recruiting and Retaining Volunteers

Potential volunteers exist all around communities. People volunteer for different reasons. Medical students, for example, may be seeking opportunities to gain experience and establish a network. Retired professionals, conversely, may be establishing a new direction in life and trying to give back to the community by sharing their talents and abilities.

Augusta VA Medical Center, for example, recommends instating “Bring a Friend to Volunteer Day.” The event is planned during National Volunteer Week and asks all regularly scheduled volunteers to bring a friend to shadow them for a few hours. Many of them jump right in while others just prefer to watch. During a complimentary luncheon, the hospital provides a presentation covering all available volunteer opportunities, their benefits, and the impact volunteers have on the care they provide. Before leaving, if interested, the potential volunteer will be given an application to schedule an appointment for an interview. By coming with a friend, it helps them relax and not feel too intimidated by the hospital environment.

“’Word of mouth," according to Mercy Medical Center Redding, or personal referrals, are great and respective ways to attract and recruit dedicated, reliable volunteers. "When you have a successful, happy group of volunteers, they are going to tell their friends and encourage them to become volunteers."

Employing Volunteers Reduces Readmission Rates

Increasingly high preventable readmission rates prove to be a major concern for many healthcare facilities. Whether it is due to shortages in staff or lack of experience, many struggle to explore effective ways to improve the discharge process to reduce the number of patients unnecessarily returning to the hospital.

New York Methodist Hospital, for example, conducted a research study by employing specially trained volunteers to help improve their patients’ health literacy. The hospital’s Director of Noninvasive Imaging and The Cardiology Fellowship Program, Dr. John Heitner, and Director of Educational and Volunteer Resources, Mimi Makovitzky, both decided to divide half of the 137 patients with congestive heart failure enrolled in the study to receive “standard” care, while the other half received specialized dietary and medication instructions from student volunteers, along with a follow-up and weekly check-in calls for one month following discharge.

The research yielded striking results. Only seven percent of patients in the group who received volunteer help were readmitted within 30 days, compared with 19 percent in the group who received “standard” care.

This validates that volunteers are a great resource for healthcare organizations. “They can do the things that would normally take a certified person away from their job,” says Tina Beasley, Volunteer and Gift Shop Coordinator at NHSC. “This lets our certified personnel be more available for patients. Our volunteers really love what they do. There isn’t a specific skill set for the job other than someone who genuinely wants to help.”

What role do volunteers play at your healthcare organization? Are there tips or recommendations you’d like to share with others?

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