Strategies to Improve the Patient Experience in Healthcare

December 7, 2022

Providing high-quality patient care relies heavily on having enough staff available when patients need them. Understaffing in hospitals and clinics takes a major toll, leading to medical errors, infections, falls, and even death. It also degrades the overall patient experience. Patients suffer when staff are overworked, less attentive, and rushed.

Ensuring adequate healthcare staffing is crucial for better care delivery, safety, and experiences. With rising labor costs and shortages, many health systems struggle to maintain sufficient staff coverage. This calls for innovative workforce solutions that provide flexibility while improving stability.

The Relationship Between Staffing and Patient Experience

Multiple research studies have conclusively shown the critical link between nurse staffing levels in hospitals and clinics and overall patient satisfaction. Facilities that maintain richer nurse-to-patient ratios consistently report higher HCAHPS scores and metrics related to the key touchpoints improving patient experiences:

  • Quality of communication with nurses - Patients have more meaningful interactions and feel heard when nurses have reasonable workloads. They can explain complex health issues, coordinate care, provide counseling, and answer questions without being rushed.
  • Responsiveness to call buttons and addressing patient needs - Quick assistance after pushing a call button for help builds trust and feelings of safety. Well-staffed units also respond faster to patient requests for bathroom help, pain medication, hygiene assistance, or visitor updates.
  • Education on medications and discharge procedures - Patients who understand discharge instructions fully are 30% less likely to be readmitted. Nurses need adequate time to explain aftercare needs, review medication regimens, ensure DME arrangements, and address concerns.
  • Emotional support and pain management - Compassion and bedside manner suffer when nurses operate in crisis mode. Attentive nurses better gauge pain levels, adjust interventions, and provide comfort during difficult treatments.
  • Unit cleanliness and noise levels - Evidence ties lower hospital-acquired infection rates to better housekeeping staff coverage. Hygiene and sanitization become rushed with limited environmental staff. Excess noise on understaffed units also negatively impacts patient rest and recovery.

Facilities lacking sufficient staff oversight across nursing, clinical, and operational teams risk delays in responding to changing patient conditions and needs. This stems from overburdened employees struggling to complete core duties. Insufficient housekeeping staff also struggle to uphold facility cleanliness standards.

Broad staffing shortages across multiple disciplines degrade the patient and family experience through missed hourly check-ins, longer wait times for requests, uncontrolled noise, higher safety risks, and reduced satisfaction. Maintaining adequate workforce capacity levels enables healthcare professionals to deliver attentive, timely, empathetic, and safe care.

The Impact of a Positive Patient Experience

When patients undergo caring, attentive healthcare experiences, a wealth of measurable improvements occur across health and care delivery:

For Patients:

  • Better treatment plan adherence and engagement in their own care, with satisfied patients following medication and lifestyle adjustments more closely than unsatisfied patients
  • Avoidable hospital readmissions decrease since clearer discharge planning and education reduce aftercare confusion
  • Quicker recovery times occur, given lower stress levels and anxiety that otherwise prolong the healing.

For Healthcare Organizations:

  • Higher Medicare reimbursement revenue based on patient experience tying directly to value-based purchasing formulas
  • Increased patient volume and market share as positive word-of-mouth referrals and online reviews drive consumer choice
  • Improved safety and quality metric performance to support operations and reputation
  • Higher clinician retention when staff can practice compassionately

Proactive investments in supportive frameworks - like adequate staffing - make it possible to consistently nurture these winning patient experiences. Doing so carries compounding rewards across clinical, operational, and financial measures.

How a Health System’s Vacancy Rate Impacts Patients

A hospital's vacancy rate indicates the percentage of positions in the hospital’s workforce that are currently unfilled or vacant. The higher the vacancy rate, the more nurse-to-patient ratios increase, which can signal understaffing issues.

As nurse-to-patient ratios suffer, patients report much lower satisfaction with communication, promptness of care, discharge education, and their overall hospital stay. Poorer staffing equates to missed updates, medications, ambulation assistance, and basic human comforts during vulnerable medical events. Patients suffer tangible physical and emotional consequences.

Flexible Staffing to Improve Patient Experiences

Health systems can alleviate staffing pressures and strengthen patient experiences through flexible or ‘flex’ staffing. This involves temporary healthcare personnel from specialized agencies supplying nurses, therapists, advanced practice clinicians, and other talent.

Flex staff fill open shifts, support census surges, and cover leaves at hospitals and clinics on a contractual basis. They step in where existing staff capacity falls short, helping ensure adequate coverage.

What is Flexible Staffing?

Many hospitals rely heavily on travel nursing agencies to flex staff urgent open shifts. Travel nurses serve a critical role in filling voids. Yet health systems can benefit from more expansive, diversified flexible staffing models optimizing talent access and costs.

This means complementing traveling clinicians with local travel contractors, international candidate pipelines, virtual care support, and internal resource pool options. Internal options may involve nurse leader coverage, specialty cross-training, overtime incentives, or roles like patient observers.

Sophisticated workforce planning technology helps model the most cost-effective, sustainable flex staffing mix based on census fluctuations and demand. Doing so expands access to talent while reducing overreliance on any one expensive staffing channel.

The goal is strategic flexibility in expanding the talent supply without compromising stability or budgets. Blended flex staffing gives health systems the dynamic ability to strengthen experience-focused care delivery amid evolving constraints.

What Characteristics Define a Healthy Staffing Mix?

An optimally balanced staffing mix aligns supply and demand while controlling costs. It also configures skill sets, specialties, seniority levels, work preferences, and assignment lengths needed for specific units or patient populations.

Other healthy mix hallmarks include:

  • A mix of short and long-term flex staff to limit turnover
  • Blended labor costs with lower premium rates
  • Improving retention incentives for permanent staff
  • Shared traveler knowledge transfer and mentoring
  • Unit-specific competency training and support
  • Leveraging overtime interest without overextending existing staff

Blending these dimensions into a staffing strategy strengthens coverage, team cohesion, and the care environment.

How a Healthy Staffing Mix Improves the Patient Experience

The downstream effect of balanced, adequately staffed workforces leads back to the patient’s bedside. With less turnover, care teams connect and communicate more intuitively. Nurses have the capacity to personalize interactions, answer questions, and support visitors.

Well-resourced units also complete clinical workflows faster for more responsive pain management, ambulation, hygiene, and family updates. Maintaining low patient-to-clinician ratios despite census spikes keeps patients safer.

Investing in holistic staffing also boosts employee morale and experience, given manageable workloads and less burnout risk. Happier staff pass on positive energy to impact patient moods and perceptions.

How Flexible Staffing Influences Patient Experiences and Outcomes

Healthcare staffing agencies play a big part in driving patient experiences through workforce solutions. Specialized partners like Health Carousel facilitate total talent management for flexible staffing based on a health system’s unique needs and culture.

Consultative programs first optimize the hiring process for traveler positions down to shifts requiring just a few hours of support. This minimizes unwanted vacancies across scheduling cycles. Partners then help fine-tune staff configurations for coordinated care while watching budget impacts.

Ongoing analysis also helps gauge if flex staff improves continuity metrics like Falls With Injury and Hospital Acquired Infections, tying staffing to patient outcomes. Any negative trends prompt staff mix adjustments until safer, sustainable models emerge. Patients ultimately win from these data-driven iterations.

How Health Carousel Improves Patient Experiences in Healthcare

As a clinically-led managed healthcare staffing provider, we at Health Carousel serve as an invaluable extension of a health system’s staffing department. Our dedicated workforce experts draw from decades of first-hand executive experience when collaborating with hospital leadership. We leverage insider insights into the unique vision, challenges, and patient priorities facing different healthcare institutions.

Our partnerships always begin with a deep analysis of the nuances surrounding permanent staff coverage models, retention patterns, and engagement needs. We then help develop customized internal resource pool options to stabilize the workforce's foundation. Concurrently, we fill persisting gaps with diversified flexible staffing sources at optimal budget impacts.

Ongoing partnership support includes coordinating scheduling logistics, streamlining applicant screening, expediting virtual onboarding, coordinating specialty skills training, and providing staff advocacy across assignment lengths to improve retention. Such high-touch, holistic talent management prevents hiccups in patient care quality and experience. It also fosters staff continuity even through periods of heavy contract labor reliance.

In the end, our clinically attuned, metrics-driven, and tailored total talent solutions ensure hospitals can consistently deliver compassionate, quality care. We enable excellent patient experiences across the healthcare ecosystem via specialized workforce stability consulting. Our teams feel privileged to drive better outcomes through strategic, customized staffing support.


How does flex staffing improve patient experiences?

Flex staffing improves patient experiences by ensuring that staffing levels are closely aligned with patient care needs at any given time. This approach allows for a more responsive and patient-centered care environment, as it helps to reduce wait times and ensure that there are sufficient healthcare professionals available to address patients' concerns and needs. Consequently, patients are likely to feel more attended to and satisfied with the care they receive.

What are nurse ratios important to patient experiences?

Nurse-to-patient ratios are crucial to patient experiences because they affect the quality and safety of care provided. Higher ratios, meaning more patients per nurse, can lead to increased workloads, potentially compromising a nurse's ability to monitor patients closely, respond promptly, and effectively manage all their needs, which can result in negative outcomes and poor patient satisfaction. Optimal ratios help ensure that patients receive attentive, thorough, and personalized care, which can lead to better health outcomes, higher levels of patient comfort, and a more positive overall healthcare experience.

About Health Carousel

Health Carousel is committed to partnering with world-class healthcare facilities across the country, providing rewarding assignments for Registered Nurses and Allied Health Professionals, and attracting the best internal talent at all career levels.