Published in Healthcare

The Employee Experience is Crucial to a Successful Patient Experience

Employee Experience and Patient Experience Go Hand-in-hand

Let’s be clear: I love my job. Truly. In fact, I’m one of those people who truly enjoys going to work. Sickening? Perhaps. But hang on…here comes the punch line: it’s been A WEEK. School is back in session, which means a new and unfamiliar schedule…and necessary bedtimes. (I really dislike bedtimes, especially on beautiful August summer evenings here in WI.) Kid sports and activities are again in full swing, most nights of the week. And we’re nearing Q4 on the business side of things, which means…client budgets need to get used and therefore, we are UBER busy. Which truly, is a good thing.

What’s not a good thing? The 13 hours of sleep I’ve managed across the last three nights. And, confession time: I’m simply not my best in this intense a situation, on this little sleep, with this level of stress. I’m not patient, I’m less kind than I should be, I don’t listen to my kids and husband very well, and I don’t truly engage in my life. I’m surviving.

After the week started the way it did, I saw this meme on a social media site the other day and it struck a chord with me. UNTIL, I had a friend say to me, “You don’t want to be a survivor, a warrior…you were made for better – you’re a THRIVER.”

And you know what? She was absolutely right. All the personal stuff aside, when I’m stressed, tired, overwhelmed, I’m most certainly not as professionally innovative and sharp as I know I’m capable of. And it got me thinking…healthcare professionals, with whom we are working more and more, work in this type of environment frequently. The stress, the “go-go-go,” the utter fatigue…this is a common scenario for many of those we trust to help us get and remain healthy – our physicians, nurses, and the office and admin staff that support them.

You know those moments when you stop in your tracks and think “holy cow?” Yeah, I had one of those moments. Because about a month ago, the pediatric after-hours line sent me to the emergency room with a sick kid. A physician friend on staff that night came out to greet us. He then stopped in our room to check in again at the end of his shift at 12:30 AM before heading home to his wife and three kids. Thinking back now, I realize how much better our experience was that night because this employee cared.

This is one key reason why we need to care about – and measure, monitor, and respond to – the EMPLOYEE experiences in healthcare, and not just the patient experiences.

These physicians, nurses, office staff, they are human and prone to human emotions, reactions, flaws just like the rest of us. Which means that they also get tired, frustrated, and stressed – and that this can also impact the way in which they perform their jobs that day.

As was the case for my family that night in the ED, these employees are the ones that can make or break a patient experience. And that night, we were fortunate to have care reflective of a healthcare organization that values, appreciates, and actively works to engage its employees in their roles.

Recently, I was trying to schedule a specialist appointment for my son and the “first available time” was 4 months out. My poor child suffers from major allergies, has asthma, and we couldn’t get his prescription renewed until we’d visited his allergist. Realistically, by the time we’d have been able to get in, all the allergens would have been frozen out, since we live in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, so it made more sense for us to cancel that appointment and free that slot up for someone else!

This brings us to a second reason why we must care deeply about healthcare employee experience: the current shortage of healthcare professionals.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, projected that 1.1 million additional nurses are needed to avoid further shortage, and that as a profession, employment opportunities for nurses will grow at a faster rate than all other occupations from 2016-2026.

There’s a similar story on the physician side, with the Association of American Medical Colleges projecting a shortage of 120,000 physicians by 2030. With Baby Boomers getting older, this shortage will only increase due to increases in patient volume and demand, and as Baby Boomer healthcare professionals retire.

Undoubtedly, these shortages will impact both availability and quality of care. While not a macro solution, one way healthcare systems can proactively mitigate these shortages on a local level is to focus on efforts designed to retain their teams. Employee retention is a complex concept, and impacted by a variety of factors: the nature of the work, the employee’s manager and teammates, the work environment, work-life balance, perceived value of the work the employee does, etc.

Understanding what matters to healthcare employees, and actively working to engage them is going to be critical in both the short and long term.

I was reading an article recently about a nurse on her way to work who, upon seeing a mother running down the highway, pulled over and was able to revive the woman’s non-breathing infant child. When these stories make the news, two things often strike me as consistent elements: the individual involved in the life-saving measure is a healthcare professional, and the drama has played out outside the confines of the hospital or clinic in which this healthcare professional works.

But here’s the thing: this is what these professionals DO. Not all may actually work in a role in which they are called to save lives on a daily basis, but on the whole, it is these same employees, going about their jobs on a daily basis, who are frequently the reason why a patient in their care has lived instead of died.

This story illustrates a third reason why a program measuring a holistic patient experience MUST also include measurement of employee experience. The actions, the attention, the engagement of the doctors, nurses, in-take staff are often what separates patients from life or death.

Healthcare systems and hospitals are the entities that have the power to proactively understand and manage the employment experiences of their employees. Whether they do so, not only impacts the delivery of care, it can literally mean the difference between life and death.

So how can the healthcare industry value their employees while providing an excellent patient experience? Below are some best practices to be considered:

  • Include employees in conversations that involve patient feedback and care, as they are the ones who interact with patients day to day. Paying attention to feedback can help bridge the gaps in experiences for both patients and employees. Employees need to know that their voice is valued.
  • Remember that employees are human. Healthcare industry leaders are in position to look out for the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of their employees. Something simple like providing a meal during a long shift, or making sure employees are highlighted for their important work is a good way to start. Recognition goes a long way, and helps employees feel valued by the patients they serve.
  • Provide growth opportunities for employees, allowing them to learn new things while helping them with their career paths. This not only makes the employee feel valued, but also increases loyalty to patients and their respective healthcare employers.