Community engagement boosts hospital revenue, quality

A common theme emerged this month in news coverage on FierceHealthcare: the importance of community and the role community involvement plays delivering quality care.

Media reports typically recognize hospitals for serving as a dependable source of jobs and economic activity for local communities. But in the same way, hospitals and health systems rely on their communities for the support and resources they need to succeed.

For example, Alabama's Athens-Limestone Hospital knows first-hand the value of supporting local business as a way to encourage the community to use its emergency services.

"It is so important to keep things local, and I strive every day to tell people that if you can use Athens-Limestone Hospital, please use it," Kelli Powers, CEO of the 101-bed nonprofit hospital, told the News Courier.

And when it comes to implementing major initiatives, such as facility renovations and advanced IT systems, community buy-in is key, writes Raymond Hino, vice president of Healthcare Advisory Services and FierceHealthcare Editorial Advisory Board member in a recent Hospital Impact post. He credited community participation in hospital decision making with gaining support for tax measures and hospital-wide changes.

Thanks to financial and emotional support from community members, French Hospital Medical Center was able to offer cardiac care services even as it struggled financially in 2007, the California nonprofit announced last week. And with new contributions from local residents, the hospital can launch an expansion project to increase patient capacity and upgrade technology.

But the power of community participation goes beyond financial assistance; engaging community members can improve care quality and satisfaction scores.

Georgia Health Sciences Health System, for example, uses advisory councils to involve healthcare consumers and community members in decisions across all aspects of operations, including anesthesia staffing, medication dispensing and the design of new services. Their engagement led to better patient satisfaction scores and fewer medication errors.

Meanwhile, Florida's Cape Coral Hospital focuses on social support and communication to provide an optimal healing environment for patients. Acknowledging the importance of connectivity between the healthcare providers and the community, Chief Administrative Officer Scott Kashman cites his organization's mantra: We're a community who encourage and inspire one another as we achieve our goals.

By taking a community-focused approach hospitals also can reduce readmissions. New research has found that quality improvement activities that engage whole communities lead to a drop in rehospitalizations among Medicare patients.

When it comes to community participation, the American Hospital Association, in its new report, says it best: "Engaging patients, families and communities has the potential to be a 'game changer' in the transformation of the healthcare system in the United States." - Alicia (@FierceHealth)