The Vital Role of Healthcare Staffing in Improving Patient Experience

Perspective from Andrew Limouris, President & CEO, Medix

Every benchmark of patient experience can be enhanced or diminished by healthcare staffing levels, whether nursing, clerical, administrative, building maintenance, or any one of numerous other functions. Staffing shortages in the healthcare hemisphere are impacting a wide array of vital operations, with patient experience likely the hardest hit.

There are powerful clinical and business cases to be made showing that patient experience and staffing go hand in hand. Indeed, they are life and death components of healthcare. 

And which should come first, improving patient experience or fixing staffing shortages? 

Patient experience isn’t only a matter of meals served with the extra pepper packet requested by the patient, although that could be part of it. Patient experience reaches deep into the core of patient care and welfare to the right to dignity, respect for religious and spiritual beliefs, and careful attention paid to physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

As patients and their families grow more educated on these rights and more likely to advocate for them, healthcare systems will have to adapt. But healthcare stands to be rewarded for these efforts through benefits including: 

  • Fewer reports of malpractice
  • Increased employee satisfaction and decreased care provider burnout 
  • Enhanced community and peer standing and boosted patient loyalty 

Patient Satisfaction Surveys

Patient satisfaction surveys have become tools to collect data needed to improve patient experience, and the nature of the data can reflect the effects of staffing levels. Factors contributing to the current nurse shortage include:

  • Fewer nurses entering the field while demand increases due to factors that include advancements in science, medicine, and technology 
  • Potential for violence against nurses, especially in emergency rooms and psychiatric facilities
  • Mental, emotional, and physical burnout

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems

Also known as HCAHPS and pronounced “H-caps,” the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey aims to enable unbiased evaluations of hospitals and make relevant data public as an incentive for healthcare systems to improve. 

The survey consists of 29 questions about patient experience and probes for details on multiple facets of care, including what happened during and after discharge. 

A 2021 study in the journal Healthcare supports these findings. According to the authors, “Policies to improve nurse staffing levels are required to provide high-quality nursing care focused on communication with patients, which can enhance patient experience and satisfaction.”

The Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program

Another element in the patient experience mix is the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program. This program adjusts Medicare and Medicaid payments to more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals and shifts incentives away from the number of treatments given to the quality of care provided, an approach intended to reduce unnecessary treatments and other cost drivers. 

The Chicken or the Egg? Maybe Neither? Maybe Both?

When it comes to which roadblock to quality healthcare came first, nursing shortages or systemic healthcare problems, things get more complicated. Patients entering emergency rooms and psychiatric facilities with serious, often untreated mental illness play a huge role in the number of assaults on direct care staff. Added to that is the fact that nursing shortages in the U.S. are not new, and they share stubborn characteristics making them resistant to long-term improvement.  

According to an article from the University of Pennsylvania, poor working conditions and inadequate compensation for nurses were on healthcare’s radar as early as 1923, and one nurse shortage identified in 1936 lasted into the 1960s. 

The 2021 study mentioned earlier makes an important elephant-in-the-room observation: Nurses are vital to patient outcomes and responsible for much of the patient education that happens from admission through discharge. Most importantly: nurse staffing levels affect patient mortality rates. 

Neither patients nor nurses should be this vulnerable. There are steps we can take toward positive change, and they involve:  

  • Developing faster routes to nursing degrees without compromising education standards 
  • Incentivizing nurses through higher wages, signing bonuses, flexible schedules, and mentoring 
  • Partnering with a trusted healthcare staffing organization like Medix to help recruit and supplement medical professional shortages
  • Welcoming underrepresented nurse demographics into the system, including men
  • Ushering in the technologies that can ease nurse workloads 
  • Making workplaces safer for nurses and other staff coming into close patient proximity 

National Patient Recognition Week: February 1–7

National Patient Recognition Week is an important time. It reminds us that improved healthcare and patient experience are essential to everyone’s well-being. It presents the opportunity for healthcare workers to renew the pledge they made to patients, the healthcare field overall, and themselves to provide the highest quality care possible.

What will you be doing during National Patient Recognition Week to make healthcare quality better and the field of healthcare a more rewarding career choice?

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