In the healthcare setting, front line workers have a HUGE impact on the patient experience. I know this, not because of an academic study or a survey, but because of a real life scenario.
A friend’s son recently spent some time in a leading children’s hospital. It was scary for a while, but the surgery went well, and he is recovering. The boy's mother told me that she never questioned the quality of care: She fully expected that the surgeon was talented and that the nurses were skilled and caring. What impressed her, though, was when the environmental services worker struck up a conversation with her 11-year-old son, then took a minute to sit on the end of his bed and talk about the baseball game that was on TV.
That moved her. It made her comfortable knowing that EVERYONE in that hospital cares about kids, understands how scary it is for them, and knows how to make them comfortable.
Think about it. How much time did that child spend with his doctor? A few minutes here and there? A bit more time with a number of nurses, perhaps. Now add up the total exposure to the people at the valet stand, the front desk, dietary, environmental services, and transporters. These are the bulk of the patient and family interactions, and they have the opportunity to chat, to ask how everyone is doing and to go the extra mile to make them feel comfortable, safe, and at home.
Now imagine that each of these front line workers feels like part of the team – that the nursing staff makes them feel like part of the team, so they feel appreciated. This is the culture at this particular children’s hospital. It’s not by chance. Leadership at this hospital gets it. They have converted the words that make up their mission statement into action, by defining what is expected, using employee assessment to only select candidates who fit that mold, reinforcing the desired behaviors and holding people accountable. What that EVS worker did is expected and encouraged!
The role of front line workers in the patient experience is getting more attention:
- Hospitals that support front line staff are more likely to provide high-quality care, according to a new study in the journal Health Services Research. Establishing a supportive, high-performance work environment also is linked to significantly better job satisfaction and employee retention.
- More than 1,500 front line staff survey responses from nine New York hospitals showed that hospital work environments that value and support a broad range of front-line workers had higher rates of patient satisfaction and lower likelihood of adverse events, Health Behavior News Service reported.
These are the positions in healthcare hiring where you usually don’t have to struggle finding candidates. Most hospitals, though, pay little attention to selection, development or engagement at this level. They are missing the boat. The cost of high turnover is substantial. More importantly, a small investment at this level has a huge impact on the patient experience and outcomes. Here's how you can take advantage:
- Educate staff and managers about the impact of front line workers.
- Move from looking for just dependability, and think about the ability to take ownership and to be patient- (rather than task-) oriented.
- Implement simple steps to sift through the candidate pool for the sort of EVS worker who will help to make a scared 11-year-old boy feel a bit more comfortable.
For more tips, check out my whitepaper, Transformation of the Healthcare Workforce. In it, I discuss the role HR plays in implementing cultural change to deliver better patient care. You can download the brief 2-page whitepaper here; I hope you find it interesting. Would love to get your thoughts on the topic as well!