Over the last few years, there's been a tremendous deal of energy in hospitals to truly make the patient experience the center of everything the institution as a whole is trying to achieve. From educational tools that give patients cues for what they may want to ask their physicians to amenities and customer service techniques borrowed from the hospitality industry, there's been a definite push to make the average patient stay in an acute care hospital a less stressful, confusing and emotionally taxing experience than it historically has been. And making patients happier is more than just a feel-good exercise — next year, Medicare will begin using scores from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, better known as HCAHPS, as a factor in value-based purchasing payments.

Recently, though, a number of the hospital leaders and staff have told me they believe that before a hospital can truly improve the patient experience, leaders need to start by making their institutions satisfying, supportive workplaces that give employees the foundation to provide excellent, compassionate care. Improving morale and communication between employees is the only way to ultimately spread those same values to patients, employee satisfaction advocates say.

For instance, at Aurora Medical Center in Hartford, Wis., nurses now make a service commitment to be kind, respectful and courteous not just to patients, but to each other. Those commitments are included in the hospital's overall patient experience action plan, says Karen Bialas, R.N., the hospital's patient care manager.

"Sometimes, caregivers don't know how they sound to each other," Bialas says.

Meanwhile, at Henry County Hospital in Napoleon, Ohio, CEO Kimberly Bordenkircher's approach to improving the employee experience includes regularly asking employees which of their peers deserves formal recognition for a job well done. Hospital employees are also asked to write thank-you notes to their colleagues for helping them in the course of their daily endeavors.

For Bordenkircher, a happy employee who feels energized, and not on edge, when they show up to work on a given day is much more likely to provide excellent patient care than an employee who dreads punching in each morning.

"Someone who feels supported by a team of other coworkers is more likely to be providing exceptional care for patients," Bordenkircher says.

This makes sense to me — at every newspaper or magazine I've ever worked at, there's been a pretty direct correlation between employee morale and the quality of the publication. Suffice to say, the poorly-lit, borderline hostile newsroom I worked in near the start of my career — where out-of-state management gave us all the distinct sense, via the fiats they sent through their publisher, that we were lucky just to get paid every two weeks — did not exactly foster the most creative environment to write in.

What is your hospital doing to improve employee morale and satisfaction? Send your thoughts to hbush@healthforum.com.