Caregiver Engagement- The most important component of service quality

Healthcare Executives Emphasize the Importance of Caregiver Engagement

Recently we met with a group of healthcare executives and shared our results from a pilot that we had conducted with a leading university healthcare organization. The initial results validated the strength of the relationship between customer satisfaction and employee engagement. This was very encouraging, and clearly more work and exploration needs to be done to understand and document this link.  Our experts were not surprised at all.  In this post we share some insights from these experts, around driving better healthcare organizations for caregivers and their patients.

First impressions last a long time

The Healthcare environment can be an intimidating or even frightening experience for patients.  There is a lot going on for the patient and the scene can often be a “busy” one.  The first interaction is critical to building a positive patient relationship.  Courtesy and a calm, confident, welcoming presence on behalf of the first point of contact in the office is absolutely critical.  

Wait-time is a good example of the impact of communication, respect and common sense.  Every minute counts - whether the patient is in a chair in the waiting room or waiting for the nurse or doctor in the patient exam room.  The goal is to minimize uncertainty, manage patient wait-time and be aware of when you are delivering above or below your goal.  Big take-away—does your healthcare organization have a goal, standard or benchmark for wait-times and patient communications?  If you don’t have a goal, you can’t measure your performance against it.

Part of doing this well is making sure you can capture the patients’ thoughts and feedback before they leave the hospital or office. This needs to be embraced by all staff.  It is critical to getting a "real" picture of the patient experience.

Organizational culture must support the staff in achieving excellence

The organizational culture needs to be designed to support the staff. Sometimes it seems as though it is the other way around—we ask our care and admin teams to adjust and adapt to the organization’s customs and pre-existing practices…even when some of these may be suboptimal or outright dysfunctional.  People define the delivery of healthcare.  Crafting a system that enables and empowers the people delivering service will help ensure quality, engagement and continual improvement. 

An important factor in getting this right is to get constant feedback and input from the caregivers and teams that deliver service.  Their perspective and ideas will be the most potent source of process improvement, and they are core to implementing changes and experimenting with new process.  Key take-away—How are you gathering frequent (if not constant) feedback and suggestions from your front line teams?  And what are you willing to unwind (disrupt) some longstanding customs, practices and policies in order to bring about real change and drive constant improvement of the service quality of your organization?

One of the biggest differences between healthcare and other industries is the unpredictable nature of everyday operations, and the extreme consequences of bad events or outcomes.  Nobody works in isolation.  Any day, any situation, any patient interaction can suddenly go sideways for a hundred different reasons.  This is why a culture of collaboration is so vital.  Though leadership and process roles and customs must be well-defined, it’s even more important to build a culture of empowerment, collaboration and respect for all participants’ feedback and ideas.  These front-line service providers are the most well-qualified people to help improve and optimize quality of care and underlying processes that support them.

A single view of service quality and engagement

Measuring is the first step to managing.  We have measured both caregiver and patient satisfaction and engagement simultaneously.  It was exciting to see the relationship over time.  One of our experts said that he had never doubted the connection between employee and patient engagement. The findings in the WorkersCount pilot are helpful for two key reasons, 1) they reinforce the need and value of frequent and timely feedback to drive meaningful and continued improvement and 2) it shows very high correlation between engagement and satisfaction.

Another of our experts discussed the “internal customers” (staff) and how their role and level of engagement was absolutely integral to patient/customer satisfaction.  Clearly, all good organizations recognize the importance of retaining valuable employees. There is a clear connection between employee turnover and the bottom line financially.  Nurses who love nursing need to be enabled by their organizations. Investing in training is one way to retain healthcare workers-it's a sign to their employees that they are valued. Winning organizations focus attention on both the internal and external customers.

Conclusions—Great customer service demands better, more frequent measurement and management everywhere

Our experts not only validated the importance of the WorkersCount result set but ascribed importance to the ability to measure and manage healthcare employee and patient engagement.  As one expert put it “the happier the employee, the happier the customer-this generally holds true for healthcare as well”. As healthcare leaders, we need to invest creativity and energy measuring and managing engagement of those that give care and then those that we serve.

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