Is that “million-dollar smile” really worth a million bucks? Now it may be.

“Just The Facts” research insight series

From time to time we will use “personal time” blog space to share insights about working and workplaces with our community.  Today’s post is dedicated to healthcare workers and how this impacts the quality of your care.  If you happen to land in the hospital or urgent care, these are workers upon whom you depend for treatment, care and handling and well-being.  Sometimes your very life depends on their care and their “engagement” with their work.

"When that “million-dollar smile” from your nurse or healthcare worker can really mean a million dollars"

Hospitals and healthcare delivery organizations have long since been “local” one-off affairs, with long-term workers and friendly, familiar workers (many of whom may have been your neighbors).  Sadly, these organizations have consolidated, the healthcare system has expanded, and these are now outposts of extremely large and complicated corporations. 

This is not to say that the great folks who dedicate their time to treatment and care of others are not wonderful.  This is simply to suggest that life “inside” of a huge healthcare organization is no longer simple, nor is it free from many conflicting priorities, complex paperwork procedures and legal mandates…. Which all contributes to a sometimes frustrating working environment, to say the least.   And this is what you walk-into when you are ill or injured.

Is “attitude” and “engagement” and workplace happiness relevant to healthcare delivery quality?

Yes it is.  That nasty front desk receptionist, or that grouchy advice nurse can really do damage.  Similarly, that angelic nurse practitioner or on-duty physician’s assistant can turn disaster into “problem solved” for patients.  It’s that important.  But what about the “bottom line” in terms of finances?

Research clearly shows that workplace happiness can affect the bottom line of most enterprises.   As we said, hospitals and healthcare delivery facilities are now large enterprises.

Until now, it has always been more anecdotal to say that it also affects the business top line. Whether you agree or disagree with what is known as “ObamaCare” (The Affordable Care Act), there are new rules inside that act that have changed this equation forever for healthcare organizations.

For the first time ever, patient care, and the level of quality they report (patients) will directly impact the reimbursement (payment) received by healthcare delivery organizations.  This is such a dramatic change we’ll say it again:  The healthcare organizations with above-average patient satisfaction scores will stand to earn more money, and those with below-average patient satisfaction scores will earn less.  Much less.

A whole lot of healthcare industry administrators just got a new metric, and they now share it with their CEO, CFO and Board of Directors.

Let’s now connect the dots.  Happy workers result in happier “customers” and a higher level of satisfaction.  Happy workers = happy customers (patients) = more revenue / earnings to healthcare organizations.  Unhappy workers = unhappy customers (patients) = less revenue/ earnings to healthcare organizations.  And this is more than pride.  This is a matter of millions of dollars.

How this new “carrot and stick” concept works:

Through the Affordable Care Act that goes into effect this year, Medicare’s reimbursements to hospitals will be partially dependent on patient satisfaction scores, including bonuses that will be paid to the hospitals that show the highest rates of patient satisfaction.  The “winning” hospitals will be determined based on patient satisfaction surveys.  Patients will rate how well their doctors and nurses communicated with them, how responsive hospital personnel were to the patients’ needs, how clean and quiet the hospital was, how well their pain was managed, even how accurate and easy-to understand the accounting and billing was.

All of a sudden this “happy workers = happy patients” is of central focus.  While we suggest that most great healthcare organizations have always put “happy patients” and superior patient care at the top of their priority list, this gives the entire topic a new and super-charged level of importance.

Worker satisfaction and happiness is now a leading indicator for patient satisfaction and thus a leading indicator for financial performance and reimbursement trends at these organizations.

Can you “track” and “manage” worker happiness with an annual or Quarterly survey?  It’s possible, but as sailors know, making frequent, small adjustments to direction is much better than discovering you are hundreds of miles off-course after a few days or weeks between measurements.  The same applies to worker satisfaction and happiness measures.  Daily polling, using simple, short (and even fun) reporting experiences, will give everyone a much better read of (pardon the medical pun) the “pulse” of the organization’s happiness.  With such an early warning (or affirmation), it’s much simpler and easier to alter course, or do more of what’s working.  It’s just common sense.

WorkersCount is such a daily service—and it provides the daily “pulse” of the organization’s worker satisfaction and happiness.  Using a fun, simple mobile experience, the WorkersCount service enables workers to “check-in” multiple times in a day (or just once if they wish), and make their voices heard.  If they’re excited about work, it shows.  If they’re frustrated, that also shows.  All anonymously and safely.  Games that reward users for prompt regular check-ins and other fun interactive features keep it light and engaging.  Users are in-and-out in under 30 seconds…. So they can get back to their work providing amazing care to patients!

Here is an example of a WorkersCount check-in screen.  Just 2 radio buttons and no typing.  A simple “how do you feel about your life at work today?” and a single “question of the day.”  That’s it.

People are naturally curious about how their experiences compare to others.  After pressing both radio-buttons, workers can then see the previous day’s results for the “whole world” and also for people with profiles just like theirs.  Again, all of this is aggregated and anonymous.

Workers get tremendous validation, as well as super-important “context” about their feelings and experience.  For example, a worker may be able to see that their overall organization is well-rated by workers, but their individual experience is poor, perhaps due to a conflict with their direct supervisor.  This may mean that as a worker, I’d be willing to “stick it out” and try to find a way through the current issue, or look for another boss (rather than look for another job).  Most importantly however, this may give a worker more perspective, and remove some of the drama.  The benefit of perspective and “context” is that they (workers) may be less likely to be prickly or grouchy to patients.  And that makes all the difference here.  Engaged and focused healthcare workers make fewer mistakes, do better work, and provide overall superior patient care.  Just that simple.  Think of your own experience at home—when you have a rain-cloud over your head, how focused are you on detailed matters?  Now translate this to your doctor or the nurse about to take blood or perform a delicate procedure. 

How can we help healthcare delivery organizations manage this on a wide-scale basis?  Simple again.  We provide dashboards and reports that display just this type of “early warning” or “confirmation” of great results.  It’s kind of like a blend between an “early warning system” and a “magic mirror into the future.” 

Here is one look at a dashboard:

Things to notice include the fact that the average happiness level is down for the week of September Additionally, something occurred on Thursday in particular. The “question of the day” shows some interesting variance from the average or benchmark level.  It’s evident that Employees do not feel that problems are resolved in an innovative manner.  Meanwhile, it appears that management could use some training on criticism and debate, as well as expressing how valuable the team is.  

All of this from two radio-button questions per day per worker.

In summary, there is no better way to measure worker happiness and satisfaction than walking around and watching and listening and engaging with workers.  But this is difficult to do on a daily basis in today’s reality.  One tool to keep an eye on the “pulse” of the workforce is the WorkersCount service.

And in the context of the new healthcare Act and the “carrot and stick” consequences, this kind of inexpensive, fun (did we mention games and rewards for participation etc?) and simple engagement measurement is a no-brainer, in terms of “diagnostics” and “prognosis” for a healthcare organization’s financial performance and worker happiness level.

The next time a healthcare worker gives you a million-dollar smile, a pat on the shoulder and a kind word, remember that, in fact, it could very well be a million-dollar smile if that’s what you walk away wearing as well.