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Apr 13, 2016

Every year, in health care facilities around the world, 195,000 patients die needlessly due to avoidable mistakes.

These deaths are preventable, and the statistics are widely known in the health care profession, yet there still isn’t universal support for the practices and business tools that can turn these statistics around and save lives.

Improving employee engagement is critical

One of the most effective means for improving patient outcomes, patient satisfaction and loyalty is to invest in helping our health care workers feel more engaged in their work, and to ensure medical staff members have as much positive contact with patients as possible.

These were the stunning findings from a FORUM at Northwestern University study of a major New York hospital. The research also uncovered five additional enlightening data points:

  1. The quality of patient care and patient satisfaction directly correlated with employee engagement levels in the hospital department.
  2. Individual employee recognition was identified as a key contributor to employee engagement.
  3. Recognition wasn’t viewed solely as acknowledgement for a job well done, but also as being able to participate in decision making, and being listened to by management and fellow health care professionals. These practices resulted in more respect and visibility, which also enhanced engagement levels.
  4. Recognition programs and activities at the hospital which are designed to contribute to employee engagement need to be viewed strategically, rather than offered as short-term efforts frequently started and stopped.
  5. In addition to what health care workers do, emphasis needs to be placed on how the employees feel about what they do. Patient experiences won’t be good if employees aren’t happy.

Can employee retention save lives?

Another exhaustive study of the healthcare field included 139,380 former patients from 225 hospitals and is featured in the book Putting Patients First.

In this research, none of the top 15 factors determining patient satisfaction referred to patients’ health outcomes. Instead, patient satisfaction directly correlated to their interactions with hospital staff and to those employees’ engagement levels.

Looking at this from another angle, renowned health care consulting firm, Studer Group has discovered that bringing employee turnover rates below 12 percent will decrease patients’ hospital stays by 1.2 days and lower mortality rates. Additionally, hand washing compliance would save 10,000 lives and $30 billion per year, and hourly nurse visits to patients prevents these problems on an annual basis:

  • 250,000 falls;
  • 8,500 deaths;
  • 350,000 pressure ulcers;
  • $2 billion and countless lawsuits.

Given that staff turnover is frequently related to employee engagement, these studies (and many more) clearly conclude that one of the most effective things we can do to save lives in health care facilities is to increase the engagement levels of their employees.

Perception gaps are part of the problem

As the FORUM studied revealed, receiving recognition is strongly correlated to increased employee engagement, but healthcare employers are missing the mark here too.

Some46 percent of health care workers globally have not observed a single recognition moment at their organization in the past month, either for themselves or for a co-worker, according to a study commissioned by O.C. Tanner and conducted by Towers Watson.

As the graphic below demonstrates, there’s a significant perception gap between employees and senior leaders about the level of recognition happening in health care organizations, which could be contributing to lower levels of engagement.


In health care facilities, recognizing and appreciating employees really is a matter of life and death. There’s no more effective strategy for healthcare workers than to help them feel fully engaged in their work and to accomplish what they entered the medical profession to achieve — to save lives.

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on

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