Executive summary

This decade has already proven itself to be transformational for healthcare—and in 2024, the pace of change is likely to shift into a higher gear. All signs suggest that the factors bearing down on the industry will intensify—factors like staff shortages and burnout, rising costs, access issues, ongoing quality/safety challenges, and the ever-growing need for care. Stopgap measures taken in 2020–2023 to weather the storm that was COVID-19 are not yet broadly being supplemented by true care redesign, although there is now a widespread understanding that we will never return to “business as usual.”

In this paper, Press Ganey thought leaders offer insights and implications from the data, predictions for what lies ahead, and commentary on which challenges are the most pressing for healthcare leaders to address in 2024. Our observations are based on careful analysis of the most recent data—data from both the workforce and consumer/patient perspectives—coupled with insights from our work with healthcare organizations around the country.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is this: Excellence in healthcare is dependent on an exceptional Human Experience. Organizations that differentiate themselves by delivering a better experience for all stakeholders—patients and the workforce—consistently come out ahead. Near- and long-term strategies that integrate an understanding and plan for building social capital will distinguish top-performing organizations from the rest.

Social capital is a feature of teams and organizations. It is comparable to financial capital, the funds that enable organizations to do things they otherwise could not do, and to human capital, the people that enable organizations to do things they otherwise could not do. Social capital is how people interact with each other—i.e., durable and enduring relationships between people, rooted in organizational values and norms, and enabled through optimized structures and processes.

Like financial and human capital, social capital enables organizations to achieve things they otherwise could not do. And, like the other forms of capital, social capital can be measured—by assessing levels of loyalty, trust, engagement, teamwork, and inclusion among stakeholders. What’s more, strong performance on the elements of social capital is associated with strong performance on the hard outcomes that distinguish leading health systems.

Social capital is essential in healthcare on a good day—and indispensable during a period of transformation.

Building a thriving healthcare workforce

Building a thriving healthcare workforce

The evolving expectations of today’s healthcare consumer

The evolving expectations of today’s healthcare consumer

Parting thoughts: The role of social capital in transformation

Working harder will not be enough to address the issues facing healthcare organizations. And whatever improvements can be achieved by “tightening belts” have likely already been realized. We are at a critical juncture, where organizations must change how they work to deliver care and improve quality, safety, and the Human Experience for all their stakeholders. Focusing on the creation of social capital will be an essential component of success.

Given the nature of the challenges healthcare organizations face, social capital is at least as important as financial capital—maybe more so, since funds can be obtained from outside sources. Only an organization’s leaders and managers can foster teamwork, cultures of respect, trust, and high reliability—the essential attributes for mobilizing teams and engaging people in the work of transformation. We know change happens at the speed of trust; we see social capital as fuel in the engine to propel us into the future.

The insight that has emerged through our interactions with many organizations—especially consistently high-performing systems—is this: Just as organizations have strategies for managing financial capital and human capital, they need a strategy for managing social capital. They need to measure it and ensure their leaders understand how to build it and be good stewards of it. Every manager must function like the CFO of social capital for their team, and approach it with the same intensity and discipline that an actual CFO applies to fiscal resources. We know change is coming. Social capital can help us ensure the change that happens is the change we want to see.

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