Making the Case for Healthcare Workforce Engagement: 2013 Edition

Editor’s note: In Q4 2012, Press Ganey acquired Morehead Associates, combining the market leaders in measuring and understanding the voices of patients, employees, and physicians. Anna Vordermark joins Press Ganey from Morehead Associates’ Product Management team, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

New Year’s Day 2013 was a stressful time in healthcare: uncertainty about the long-term implications of the fiscal cliff compromise measure weighed heavily on the minds of administrators who worry about the economic tradeoff for blocking the sharp cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

Additionally, on the first of the year, the clock started ticking on the countdown to the January 1, 2014 implementation of the Affordable Care Act, under which all Americans are guaranteed access to health care. Using conservative estimates, approximately 30 million people who were not insured in 2013 will have health insurance coverage in 2014. In other words, our current system needs to make room for 82,192 more patients every day of 2013—that’s approximately 3,400 new patients every hour.

The pervasive fear, of course, is that the swollen healthcare system, which is already plagued by a shortage of physicians, will collapse under its own weight. In the “State of the Healthcare Employee Engagement” report published last January, Morehead Associates presented the cumulative findings of more than 37 million data points from health care employee engagement surveys. The lowest-scoring survey item for the U.S. workforce was, “My work unit is adequately staffed.” Ironically, the highest scoring survey item in the same report was, “I like the work I do,” followed closely by, “Patient safety is a priority in this organization.” The message couldn’t be any clearer: We have a health care workforce that is dedicated to providing excellent patient experiences, but a health care system that doesn’t always support those efforts.

Without question, the healthcare workforce of 2014 and beyond will be expected to do more with less, which will ultimately require the adoption of a different type of healthcare delivery system. As Kenneth Kaufman and Mark Grube point out in their report, “The Transformation of America’s Hospitals,” (Society for Healthcare Strategy and Marketing Development, 2012), the physician-centric approach to episodic patient care “will need to be replaced by a team-centric approach to population health management, which will require the close integration of hospitals, physicians, and other providers.”

In anticipation of the upcoming demands on the healthcare system, the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) recently revised its policy statement on staff shortages. The updated document recommends that health system leaders conduct employee opinion surveys and exit interviews to identify and address issues that negatively affect job satisfaction. It also suggests identifying employee engagement opportunities to support recruitment and retention efforts; using department-specific data to diagnose staff morale challenges, and looking to best practices from similar organizations to avoid staff shortages.

The benefits of workforce engagement extend beyond employee retention. Morehead’s most recent research using 2012 HCAHPS data, shows that healthcare organizations who achieve top decile employee engagement scores significantly outperform the rest of the health care industry in the percentage of employees who give the highest positive rating of the hospital as a place to receive care and the highest positive rating of their likelihood to recommend the hospital to friends and family. In the coming months and years, with the progressive implementation of value-based purchasing (VBP) protocols and other performance-based financial incentives, the value of this association will have an ever-greater impact on an organization’s bottom line. Health care providers who understand the link will be in the best position to use the metrics to their advantage, and by so doing will be better able to maximize clinical outcomes without sacrificing a quality patient experience.

Creating a healthcare system based on a foundation of engaged employees and satisfied patients is definitely a New Year’s resolution worth making.

Society for Healthcare Strategy and Marketing Development (2012). Futurescan 2012: Healthcare Trends and Implications 2012-2017. Chicago, Il: Health Administration Press.