Research Shows Hospital Employee Engagement Affects Patient Outcomes

By Donna M. Airoldi
August 11, 2009

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Health care insurance is currently a hot-button issue. Making sure people can afford adequate coverage is important. However, taking care of the people who care for patients is important too.

A new white paper released last week by the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement shows that having engaged and happy health care employees can lead to better cared for, happier and healthier patients. It can also mean a healthier bottom line.

The paper, "The Relationship between Employee Satisfaction and Hospital Patient Experiences," is based on extensive research commissioned by the Forum and conducted at a major New York City hospital by a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Northwestern University.

"In the health care industry, as in other service-related businesses, having engaged, empowered, loyal employees can lead to increased retention, lower costs, enhanced reputation and a profitable business picture," says Forum president Michelle M. Smith, who is also vice president of business development at Salt Lake City-based O.C. Tanner Company. "And now, we are finding that having satisfied employees leads to higher quality of patient care and overall better patient experiences."

The paper states that health care administrators are increasingly pressured to better manage costs while at the same time provide new treatments and improved quality care for patients, making the need to retain top talent increasingly important, especially as the U.S. population continues to age and demand for services and treatments rises.

Researchers Jimmy Peltier and Andy Dahl of the University of Wisconsin and Frank Mulhern of Northwestern University looked at how service-based organizations, such as hospitals, determine their level of employee engagement and what impact it has on patients. The study’s two components included feedback from a 31-member panel on perceptions of service, and qualitative analysis comparing employee satisfaction with patient satisfaction. Key findings include:

• Patients treated in departments with highly satisfied employees have higher levels of service satisfaction and are most likely to recommend the hospital to others. Word of mouth, more than any other source of marketing promotion, is a primary driver in patient-care decisions.

• The behavior of physicians has a major impact on the level of engagement with non-physician staff. Doctors who are disrespectful, make negative comments or treat patients as (in the words of one committee member) "non-human intangible entities" leads to reduced engagement in non-physician staff. When an employee feels like a valuable team member and feels respected by others, higher levels of engagement are likely.

• As the popularity of electronic testing and monitoring expands, health care employees, more than ever, need to exercise "the personal touch" in caring for patients.

• Emphasis needs to be placed on how employees feel about what they do. Patient experiences will not be good if employees are not happy.

A condensed version of the white paper is available athere. For a copy of the full 31-page report, contact managing director Annalisa Jacobs at (630) 369-7780 or via e-mail at: This page is protected by Copyright laws. Do Not Copy


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