Most hospitals conduct employee surveys on a regular basis. But these surveys usually are limited to measuring employee engagement, identifying causes of employee satisfaction, and soliciting suggestions for improving working conditions. These surveys rarely include questions that could have an even greater impact on patient care and operations, such as:

  • What do you think stands in the way of providing the best possible care?
  • What do you need to perform your job better?
  • What are the key elements of patient satisfaction, and how can we address them?

Apart from patients, no one is better positioned to report on the care experience than those working with patients. Caregivers have the additional benefit of understanding operational challenges and constraints that stand in the way of improvements.

Employees Are the Key

From the front-line caregivers to the backroom IT department, most employees are valuable sources of information for improving care quality. Hospitals can benefit from their different perspectives on how various departments interact to allocate responsibilities and resources, and to uncover small adjustments that have big impacts on care.

Many hospitals not only miss the opportunity to solicit input from their staff members, but they inadvertently may foster cultures in which employees are reluctant to share critical observations. Hospitals can fill these voids with surveys that solicit the wider perspective of caregivers and support personnel.

Benefits of Employee Involvement

Collecting certain care and satisfaction data from patients is mandatory, but patients are often reluctant survey participants, unless they are especially delighted or distressed. In addition, they are weary of being asked for their perceptions in other aspects of their lives—about the airlines they use or the dinner they ate in their neighborhood bistro. Moreover, eliciting insightful feedback from patients can be difficult, and certainly expensive, to collect.

In contrast, hospitals can collect this information efficiently and economically from their own employees. Often you can learn almost as much by asking employees as you can from polling consumers, who have little motivation to provide detailed or reflective answers. Research programs in other industries, from telecommunications to hospitality, have demonstrated that employee and consumer responses are closely aligned. In addition, employee responses have the benefit of staff sensitivity to organizational constraints and challenges—a viewpoint that often is critical in identifying feasible improvements to enhance the patient experience.

Better Employee Surveying

Employee surveys long have focused on optimizing several key areas of human capital, from empowerment to compensation. Recently, some organizations have expanded the surveys to uncover wellness and stress factors that affect employee productivity and organizational profitability. Also, hospitals should not miss the chance to survey employees in a way that develops a fuller picture of the factors that can have enormous impacts on patient perceptions and health.

The first and most important question is, of course, "What stands in the way of each employee's ability to provide optimal care?" That is, what do they need to be more effective? But employees also should be tapped for their thoughts on improvements that could be made during and after hospital stays to effect quicker recovery and positive attitudes toward the hospital.

For example, a major university hospital is deploying "employee-generated optimization" (EGOSM) surveys to make desired improvements. This hospital has been challenged to attract patients in a highly competitive market for health care services, and it wishes to determine key factors in building its "brand franchise" and reputation for quality care. It also wants to identify which patient perceptions will differentiate it from other health care providers, especially when it comes to deciding where to go for elective procedures.

The Added Benefit of Employee Engagement

It is now commonplace to recognize the strong relationship between employee loyalty and satisfaction and the loyalty and satisfaction of customers. Simply conducting a research program like EGO, which solicits employee feedback to guide improvements, improves the workplace environment, as it lets employees know their opinions are valued.

Changing the communication culture of the organization, and enlisting employees as partners in the process, typically improves staff morale and satisfaction. Satisfied employees are more likely to stay put, and their tenure provides their organizations with a knowledgeable and stable workforce—the kind of experienced staff that most likely will provide the highest quality care.

Susan Ellerin, Ph.D., is the president, and Cathryn Noyes is the director of insight research at STAT Resources Inc., in Newton, Mass.