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Key to top-tier reputation, financial performance lies in workforce engagement, Press Ganey research shows

Organizations with highly engaged workforce perform better on safety, quality and patient experience, research shows.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Safety, quality and the patient experience are all factors which can drive success for a hospital or health system in both reputation and financial performance. New research from Press Ganey suggests that the means to excelling in those areas is rooted in an engaged workforce.

The research found that organizations with a highly engaged workforce perform better on safety, quality and patient experience measures than those with low engagement. High performance in all of these areas influences financial outcomes.

Workforce engagement is largely determined by workplace relationships, the research found. Those who feel connected to the mission of the organization, supported by their managers and appreciated by their colleagues tend to be more engaged than those who lack those attachments, and feeling like they're part of a cohesive, aligned team tends to lead to better care, and thus better financial performance.

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[Also: Value-based care, patient engagement, local attention and digital technology are fixes for healthcare industry, report says]

While patient safety is fundamental to high-quality healthcare, according to Press Ganey, progress has been slow. Citing a study released by the Office of the Inspector General from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the report said that hospital employees report only 14 percent of all medical errors, and usually don't change their practices to try to mitigate those errors. In a 2016 analysis, Johns Hopkins researchers estimated that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors, just behind heart disease and cancer. So reducing errors is paramount.

There are other drivers of patient experience as well, such as how well providers work together to deliver care, the concern they show for patients' questions and worries, and how well they communicate information. According to the research, health systems with higher overall patient experience scores on the HCAHPS Likelihood to Recommend and Overall ratings have higher net margins, lower spending in the first 30 days post-discharge and higher reimbursement per beneficiary during the episode of care.

But moving the needle in any one area -- safety, quality or experience -- is dependent on the care workforce, the research showed. Healthcare systems in the top quartile for physician engagement in 2014-2015 had lower rates for most hospital-acquired infections, shorter lengths of stay and fewer readmissions.

[Also: Signature Medical Group brings analytics in-house, boosts physician engagement and bottom line]

Additionally, for the HCAHPS Overall rating, organizations with top-quartile employee engagement rank in the 81st percentile, compared with the 28th percentile for those in the bottom quartile. In terms of Likelihood to Recommend, considered a marker for patient loyalty, the median ranking of systems with highly engaged physicians is 79 -- which is 44 points higher than those with lower levels of physician engagement.

Facilities that want to move more toward a culture of workforce engagement, according to Press Ganey, should establish engagement goals; evaluate progress through regular engagement surveys; review engagement data to see what needs improving; develop specific action plans; and provide coaching and training on leadership competencies.

Twitter: @JELagasse