5 front-line staff opportunities with bottom-line impact

Editor's Note: This is the third in a three-part series on leadership and operations that examines the power of front-line staff.

By Thomas H. Dahlborg

Recently, I have shared stories of how leadership not listening to front-line staff affects patients, staff and hospitals. From those examples, I have highlighted some areas where input from the frontlines can be leveraged to improve the financial outcomes of your hospital, as well as the U.S. healthcare system.

1. Patient satisfaction and experience

  • Patient experience is increasingly tied to financial incentives, according to a study in the journal Quality Management in Healthcare. Moreover, the financial implications associated with the measured perceptions of how well physicians and nurses provide information and attend to patients and their families are substantial.
  • Good patient experience correlates with lower medical malpractice risk. In fact, for each drop in patient experience score along a five-step scale of "very good" to "very poor," the likelihood of being named in a malpractice suit increased by 21.7 percent, noted a brief form the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's "Aligning Forces for Quality."

2. Patient safety

  • The average hospital payout for a medical malpractice lawsuit is more than $6 million, according to data from MedicalMalpracitce.com.
  • Forty-five cents out of every dollar spent on U.S. healthcare is related to a medical mistake, the National Journal reported.

3. Avoidable emergency room admissions

  • More than $18 billion dollars are wasted annually for avoidable emergency room visits, according to the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association.

4. Suboptimal breastfeeding and the healthcare system

  • The United States would save $13 billion per year if 90 percent of families would breastfeed exclusively for six months, concluded research in the journal Pediatrics.

5. Staff satisfaction, retention, turnover

  • The average cost of replacing a registered nurse is estimated to be between $22,000 and $64,000, as noted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Clearly, there are many opportunities to engage front-line staff and improve the financial health of your institution and the healthcare system as a whole, while also improving care provision, patient experience and safety, and staff satisfaction and retention.

I have often written of the importance of time, relationship, trust and empathy in healing. It is just as valid on the administrative side of healthcare. Without it, healthcare leaders cannot create a safe place to optimize the ability of front-line staff to share openly and constructively their concerns with leadership decisions, their ideas to make processes better, or the efforts they are making unbeknownst to leadership to "fix" what they see as broken.

Thomas H. Dahlborg, M.S.M., is vice president for strategy and project director for the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality, where he focuses on improving child health and well-being.

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