For years, hospitals earned high (or low) ratings based almost entirely on the medical care they delivered. That’s changed, thanks to formal tools like the national Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey and reviews posted on Yelp and social media. Today, providing a positive patient experience has become an equally important focus for hospitals around the country.

During a hospital stay, you need comfort, support, compassion, and kindness. No matter how skilled the clinical care you receive or how successful the treatments, if these human elements are missing, you’re likely to give the hospital low marks.

A 2013 study done at two large Baltimore hospitals showed that the average time a doctor spends with each of his or her patients in the hospital is only eight minutes. Since hospital stays often last for days, this means your time in the hospital is heavily dominated by nurses and medical assistants, lab technicians, administrative workers, maintenance and physical plant workers, and social workers. It can make a big difference if the person who brings you a meal makes conversation and asks you how you’re doing rather than just dropping off the tray and leaving without so much as a smile.

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In my job at WorkStride, I’ve learned that a good way for hospitals to help their patients have good experiences is by focusing on their employees. Engaged employees do far more than simply show up on time and perform satisfactorily, and instead go the extra mile to care for patients.

Here are four ways hospitals can help all employees become engaged and dedicated to providing the best patient experience:

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  • Create and share a set of core values and goals that guide the behavior of all hospital employees, from the CEO and surgeons to cafeteria and maintenance workers.
  • Ask all employees for feedback about policies, procedures, or equipment that need to be changed to deliver the best service — and act on their advice.
  • Develop a program to recognize and reward actions that support the core values and goals.
  • Constantly evaluate the organization’s performance through patient surveys and other feedback mechanisms. Bringing in patient feedback is crucial — seeing the positive effects of their efforts can powerfully increase employee engagement and reinforce their caring behaviors.

In 2013, Orlando Health, one of Florida’s most comprehensive private, not-for-profit health care networks, wanted to roll out new standards for care, captured in the acronym PROMISE: positive attitude, respect, ownership, mindfulness, inclusiveness, super communication, and exceed expectations. The company thought that an employee engagement program could reinforce those standards of behavior.

We helped the organization design and implement Applause Central, a program designed to recognize and reward workers who exemplify its standards. Through it, managers and peers can recognize each other for great work. A separate web portal that feeds the program lets patients virtually “applaud” workers who made their hospital experiences better.

According to Lisa Cannata, Orlando Health’s chief learning officer, the program helped revitalize a culture of recognition. “If you are recognizing team members for great quality care … you’re going to get the results that you want. Recognition is key to changing behaviors,” she said.

Of course, recognition is not a cure-all for employee engagement. The building blocks of a company culture must be in place, from an organizational mission to core values and strong management that believes and enforces those tenets. But once the foundation is in place, a system that reinforces behaviors that contribute to an exceptional patient experience can be a useful tool in the arsenal.

Jim Hemmer is CEO of WorkStride, a Manhattan-based company that builds recognition and incentive programs for clients.

  • Yes, it was striking during a post-surgical hospital stay that though I had a good recovery room nurse, after that NO employee ever introduced themselves, said hi, or asked how I was doing, nor am I sure I ever saw the same person twice. This at a hospital that boasts in its ads of “human care”!

  • Applause Central looks to be a large scale attempt to manipulate lowest level, front-line employees to improve the hospital’s reviews of patient satisfaction on industry surveys and social media. Will management really respond to requests for “feedback about policies, procedures, or equipment,” by “acting on their advice,” even if workers cite inadequate compensation and the need for a raise? Assuming that “recognition” is what will change behavior is condescending, insulting, and likely short- lived. Of course there are employees who are rude, dismissing and neglectful. For those people, recognition is not likely to result in positive behavioral change.

    • I agree; an effort to treat patients well MUST involve treating employees well also, especially staffing adequately (and paying adequately too).

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