Principles to Improve the Patient Hospital Experience

November 9, 2022

Hospitals across the country have been facing increasing patient volumes and ever-growing demands on their staff. Yet many are struggling with staff shortages that make meeting patient needs and expectations exceptionally difficult. Research overwhelmingly shows the critical importance of adequate staffing levels and staff mix in ensuring positive patient experiences.

As hospitals seek solutions that lead to improved patient experiences in hospitals amidst ongoing staffing challenges, flex staffing is emerging as an effective option. Partnering with specialized healthcare staffing firms can help hospitals achieve the optimal staffing needed to drive better experiences.

How Healthcare Staff Shortages Impact the Patient Experience

As health systems across the country strive to improve patient experience, deepening healthcare staff shortages have become a major obstacle. Extensive research clearly links inadequate nurse and clinical staffing to a cascading set of negative impacts on patients. Staffing gaps lead to reduced hospital capacity, care delays, increased risks of harm, lower satisfaction scores, and higher costs from poor outcomes.

Extensive research has linked inadequate staffing to a range of negative impacts on patients:

  • Longer wait times: Understaffed hospitals struggle to admit patients from the ER quickly, prepare rooms for new patients, assist with toileting/mobility issues, respond to call bells, and more. These delays directly worsen the patient experience.
  • Care delays and mistakes: Nurses with too many patients face hurdles in properly monitoring patients, reviewing charts, managing medications/IVs, implementing care plans, and noticing changes in condition. This leads to compromised patient safety and negative health outcomes.
  • Lower patient satisfaction: Understaffed hospitals measure markedly lower on HCAHPS surveys across metrics like communication, responsiveness, discharge instructions, pain management, and overall rating.
  • Increased infections: Research shows that patients who are treated by understaffed hospitals are 6.2% more likely to develop a hospital associated infection (HAI) within a few days of treatment.
  • Higher readmissions: Adequate nurse staffing levels are significant in preparing patients for discharge and reducing avoidable readmissions tied to patient education gaps.

Additionally, understaffed hospitals measure markedly lower on key HCAHPS survey metrics like communication, responsiveness, discharge instructions, pain management, and overall rating. Adequate nurse staffing levels play a significant role in satisfaction across health care. Finding a healthy staffing mix is one of the forces driving improved patient experiences in hospitals.

Challenges Hospitals Face in Improving Patient Satisfaction

Health systems don't set out to have poor patient satisfaction, but it happens. Unfilled positions can make patients feel like they're not receiving the proper care they should be. Even with the best staff, when there are understaffed departments, medical staff are spread thin and cannot provide the highest level of care.

While hospitals strive to enhance the patient experience, longstanding healthcare workforce issues make progress extraordinarily difficult. Some of the challenges health systems face include:

  • Nursing shortages: National nursing shortages lead to intense competition in attracting talent, while nurse vacancies and turnover remain problematic. This significantly impacts responsiveness and capacity. Patients might wait longer for ER beds or treatment, which can decrease the average quality rating of the hospital.
  • Burnout and turnover: Staff burnout and turnover have increased sharply, exacerbated by the pandemic. The loss of experienced staff directly reduces morale and continuity of care.
  • Overuse of contract labor: Contract labor can be incredibly beneficial, but when it’s overused, it can cause healthcare teams to struggle with integration.
  • Staff Inefficiency: Understaffing decreases productivity across units as nurses and staff stretch to cover more patients. Hospitals end up with less capacity despite higher spending.

The key to improving patient satisfaction is to find staffing solutions to balance staffing levels. It’s essential for hospitals to set on improving patient experiences.

How Staff Quality Affects Patient Experiences

Raw staffing numbers are vital in influencing patient experiences in hospitals, but that's not the only factor. The competency, skill level, and fit of the healthcare providers also play a major role.

  • Nurse education: Nurses with a higher education level tend to enable better clinical outcomes due to rescue interventions when patient conditions deteriorate. Seasoned nurses more readily prevent issues and proactively address changes in status than newer nurses and healthcare staff.
  • Specialized experience: Healthcare staff who have specialized in certain areas of medicine can provide a better patient experience when dealing with conditions they've specialized in.
  • Consistent staffing: Patients benefit emotionally and physiologically from consistent care teams familiar with their cases over their full hospitalization. High churn in assigned nurses and staff during a hospital stay can increase patient anxiety and, therefore, decrease patient satisfaction.

Beyond clinical care, a positive workplace culture promotes better caregiver-patient interactions and experience. Ensuring strong mission and values alignment for new hires aids their assimilation into the hospital's culture. This facilitates team cohesion and coordinated workflows.

Additionally, non-clinical staff significantly affect patient satisfaction across factors like room/bathroom cleanliness, meal quality, maintenance issues, administrative paperwork like medical chart audits, and internal transportation.

How To Achieve a Healthy Staffing Mix

Building and nurturing adequate, high-quality staff requires assessing unit needs, targeting problem areas, and creatively enhancing sourcing and retention tactics, including:

  • Analyze vacancies and turnover by unit: Drill into the specific departments and roles facing the largest shortages relative to benchmarks. Identify root causes driving exits.
  • Set minimum staff-to-patient ratios: Determine acceptable staffing ratios per unit aligned to acuity levels. Identify gaps between current and target ratios.
  • Benchmark productivity standards: Calculate productivity standards for nursing staff, incorporating patient volumes, acuity levels, and care hours per patient day. Compare against internal units and external benchmarks.
  • Widen your talent pool: Expand candidate outreach by mining new sources for active and passive candidates. Prioritize employee referrals and rehire former staff.
  • Raise compensation strategically: Re-evaluate compensation and benefits packages across high-need roles relative to your region and employer brand. Ensure offers are competitive.
  • Enhance culture and professional development: Ramp up retention efforts through increased developmental programs, cross-training, preceptorships, and ensuring cultural fit.
  • Partner with total workforce solution agencies: Work with specialized healthcare staffing partners that provide total talent management spanning staff augmentation, resource pooling, workforce analytics, recruitment, retention programs, and more. Leverage their flexible staffing pools, specialized expertise, and data-driven insights to build a healthier, more adaptive permanent and contingent staffing mix tuned to improving patient satisfaction.

Regularly tracking leading KPIs around vacancies, turnover, ratio gaps, care hours per patient day, productivity, and overtime hours can help leadership teams continually course-correct strategies and find solutions to improve patient satisfaction.

Flex Staffing Can Improve Patient Experiences

As hospitals look to supplement strained internal staffing amidst growing talent scarcity, flexible staffing models have become a crucial tool in improving patient experience in hospitals. Healthcare is one of the most extensive adopters of flexible staffing across major industries.

What is Flex Staffing?

Flex, or flexible staffing, leverages temporary or per-diem staff from external staffing agencies and travel firms to supplement a hospital’s permanent workforce. It provides versatile solutions to fill gaps smoothly, meet fluctuating patient care demands, and improve patient experience overall.

There are different flexible staffing categories that health systems can utilize. Typical flex staff categories include:

  • Traveling or contract nurses and allied health staff
  • Local per-diem nurses and allied health staff
  • Contract or agency non-clinical staff like patient care techs

Hospitals maintain internal resource pools while tapping external resources in a blended workforce strategy. Flex models allow scaling up or down based on census and acuity factors across units.

The Relationship Between a Healthy Staffing Mix and Positive Patient Experiences

Strategically integrating flexible staffing serves as a force multiplier that directly enables hospitals to deliver improved patient experiences and centered care through:

  • Immediate gap filling: Quickly adding additional clinical staff alleviates understaffing pressures that lead to poor outcomes. Patients see faster response times.
  • Smoothing census variability: Temporarily expanding staff during peak census allows for maintaining safer staff-to-patient ratios vital to the quality of care.
  • Creating capacity amid growth: Adding flexible staff facilitates expanding service lines like emergency departments without inflating the permanent workforce.
  • Reducing staff fatigue: Lessening overburdened staff loads combats emotional exhaustion, burnout, and error risks that all undermine patient satisfaction.
  • Promoting continuity: Extending high-performing flex staff optimizes care continuity versus cycling through temporary staff. Patients see familiar faces.
  • Maintaining culture: Effective vetting and onboarding of flexible staff aids in ensuring proper cultural fit, which translates to seamless coordinated care.

Having a permanent staff establishes baseline operational capacity, while flexible staffing provides the dynamic ability to rapidly scale and prevent patient experience degradation from patient volume spikes and variability.

How Health Carousel Can Assist in Improving Patient Experiences

As a full-service, total talent management partner, Health Carousel provides customizable workforce strategies and flexible staffing solutions tailored to enhancing service quality, staff stability, and patient experiences.

Health Carousel offers an innovative vendor management system (VMS) to make finding the right staff simpler than ever. With both clinician-led and technology-powered solutions spanning staff augmentation, workforce analytics, resource pool management, and more, key benefits include:

  • Comprehensive talent management: healthcare staffing across all worker types
  • Predictive analytics: Proprietary algorithms precisely forecast fluctuating staff demands so the right resources proactively align with patient needs
  • Clinical leadership: Board-certified nursing leadership oversees candidate vetting and onboarding for strong culture fit
  • Vendor neutrality: Access to a nationwide network of staffing partners
  • Tailored solutions: Solutions that match specific pain points

Health Carousel strives to identify and deliver quality talent and insights to drive systemic improvements in hospital staffing by serving as an integrated extension of existing workforce teams. By creating data-driven staffing solutions, we can help improve patient experiences and improve your patient-to-staff ratio.

Request a consultation with our team today to learn more about how Health Carousel can help you achieve healthy staffing


How can patient experience be improved?

Patient experience can be improved by ensuring that the healthcare environment is patient-centered, empathetic, and responsive to individual needs. Enhancements such as streamlined administrative processes, clear communication, and providing access to resources and education can empower patients.

What are the 5 key initiatives of the patient experience?

The five key initiatives of the patient experience include:

  1. Improving communication and engagement between patients and healthcare providers.
  2. Ensuring easy access to healthcare services and information.
  3. Providing a comfortable, safe, and healing environment.
  4. Delivering personalized care that respects patients’ preferences and needs.
  5. Collect and utilize patient feedback to drive continuous improvement in healthcare delivery.

How can hospitals improve patient experience and satisfaction during their stays?

Hospitals can enhance patient experience and satisfaction by prioritizing personalized and compassionate care, ensuring clear communication between healthcare providers and patients, and addressing individual patient needs promptly. Improving the hospital environment through cleanliness, noise reduction, and comfortable accommodations can contribute to a more positive patient 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.