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How Healthcare Organizations Can Improve This Year
Business Journal

How Healthcare Organizations Can Improve This Year

Three strategies for 2014 that will help leaders achieve goals related to patient satisfaction, employee onboarding time, and medical supply availability, among others

by Jeff Burger and Andrew Giger

Healthcare organizations have trouble following through on simple, achievable steps for improvement.

The beginning of any year is filled with hope and ambition. With New Year's resolutions come planning, goal setting, and excitement for new possibilities. But a sobering reality tempers that hope: More than nine in 10 people will fail to keep their resolutions this year. Their intentions are noble: exercise more, cut back on smoking, save more, spend less. But their odds of success are minimal.

There may be a simple explanation for this: Decision making is far more emotional than rational. At least, that's what behavioral economists have found to be true.

It's important to understand how emotions affect decision making because of the significant implications for individual and organizational success. For instance, we all know that exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet can help us shed pounds. Yet "lose weight" is the resolution people most frequently break.

Healthcare organizations have trouble following through on simple, achievable steps for improvement too. For example, Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins Hospital demonstrated that by following five steps, healthcare organizations could eliminate central-line-associated bloodstream infections. But even armed with this information, many hospitals resist implementing protocols like this one that are proven to work. Why? Because decision making is not predominantly driven by logic or facts. Emotions influence the choices people make.

As healthcare leaders cope with the uncertainty brought on by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there is one constant they can anticipate: change. By understanding the emotion-driven nature of decision making and applying appropriate strategies, leaders can help promote better clinical outcomes and an easier transition for clinical staff.

In our experience working with healthcare clients, we found that the odds of successful behavioral change dramatically increase with the implementation of three practices. After applying these strategies, several Gallup healthcare clients increased their success in achieving goals related to patient satisfaction, employee onboarding time, and medical supply availability, among others.

  1. Create a compelling case for change. Given the intense influence of emotions on decision making, employees must be strongly motivated to make a change. An organization's mission -- whether it is to improve community health, to increase quality of care, or to achieve a faith-based goal -- can be a powerful motivator. Framing changes around an organization's mission gives employees context and encourages them to align their behavior with new initiatives. Discovering the most compelling frameworks and emphasizing positive influences can help leaders inspire behavioral change and ultimately promote organizational success.
  2. Share organizational goals internally. Keeping internal lines of communication open is a critical function of leadership. Clearly communicating and explaining goals ensures that employees understand what's expected of them. This practice also builds employee engagement and accountability -- two key components of organizational success.
  3. Establish short-term benchmarks. Meeting incremental milestones on the path to an ultimate goal creates an opportunity to highlight achievements, identify and resolve setbacks, and encourage forward motion. For example, a Gallup hospital client recently received HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores that lagged far behind those of its local competitors. Though the provider's ultimate goal was to achieve the best patient satisfaction scores in its metropolitan area, leaders identified a short-term goal: meeting national HCAHPS standards. This move made the growth to national thresholds a cause for celebration and motivated employees to improve patient service.

Though changes related to ACA implementation and industry consolidation remain a challenge for healthcare leaders, maintaining focus on the organizational mission is an effective starting point for success. By creating a case for change, sharing goals, and establishing benchmarks, healthcare leaders and managers can help all employees understand the importance of change -- and how they can help the organization thrive now and in the future. With these practices in place, leaders can increase the likelihood of achieving organizational goals and improved clinical outcomes -- even in an uncertain climate.

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