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The Missing Link in Health System Success: A Healthy Workforce

Health systems are increasingly focused on improving employee engagement as a critical driver of health system performance. 

By Melinda Thiel and Raphaela F. O’Day

Health systems traditionally focus on achieving the Triple Aim: improving patient outcomes, reducing costs and enhancing the patient experience. However, the fourth factor of the Quadruple Aim – improving clinician and employee experience – is gaining traction as a critical piece of the puzzle. Ninety-eight percent of health system leaders report their health system is driving efforts to address burnout and workforce needs, according to the Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies’ Second Annual Health System Executive and Clinicians Survey.

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When clinicians and employees feel disengaged, the entire health system suffers. Helping health system employees feel engaged and satisfied at work can lead to improved outcomes, from patient and clinician experience to the bottom line and everything in between. 

The real impact of a disengaged and burned out workforce 

The day-to-day stressors of health system jobs can cause clinicians to feel a diminished sense of accomplishment and emotional exhaustion. These feelings can lead to clinicians to be detached from their work and less invested in patient interactions. Burnout may also lead to decreased engagement and lack of attention, ultimately putting patients at triple the risk for medical errors., These cases aren’t few and far between. Fifty four percent of physicians and 70 percent of nurses report burnout in their current roles. Clinician burnout is threatening the overall quality and safety of health care.

Challenges associated with burnout also impact the health system environment and culture, and conclusively, its bottom line. Disengaged employees are twice as likely to leave an organization and 26 percent of engaged or fully engaged physicians are more productive than their less engaged counterparts. Annually, productivity losses related to absenteeism cost U.S. employers over $225 billion. Presenteeism, the problem of employees being on the job but not fully engaged, appears to be even costlier. Lack of attention for the physical and psychological health of employees costs hospital systems between $500,000 and $1 million per physician. This includes the costs of recruitment and replacement of staff, medical errors, and patient satisfaction and retention. As the mounting costs of burnout continue to rise, health system leaders are becoming increasingly aware and proactive about addressing the issue.

*Some programs are provided as fee-for-service offerings through Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Inc.

Getting to the root of burnout 

In order to address burnout and disengagement, health system leaders must be committed to developing a strong and positive work environment. It starts with listening and understanding the challenges affecting employees throughout the system. Although burnout is a widespread issue, every person and every health system experiences it differently and has unique needs.

For some, wellness programs may address their needs. A 2018 study using a workplace wellbeing program from Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute©  published in the American Journal of Health Promotion demonstrated that a short, 2.5 day workplace wellness program, may help improve employee vitality and sense of purpose. Others may benefit from specific training, such as those offered through the Johnson & Johnson HealthCaring Conversations, a communication skills training designed to help healthcare professionals increase patient engagement and self-management.  

It is critical that health system leaders identify the right tailored program for their workforce. 

Building “health” into your workforce 

The effective results of such programs have already been observed within Johnson & Johnson. Our initiative to foster a “culture of health” has led to encouraging results. In 2010, the rate of smoking by Johnson & Johnson’s employee population was reduced to four percent, against a national goal of 12 percent. Similarly, the rate of high blood pressure among employees was reduced to six percent, against the national goal of 16 percent. Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson’s programs have resulted in time-adjusted savings of $400 per employee per year. 

Now, Johnson & Johnson’s health system customers are launching workplace programs in hopes of yielding the same results, many guided by Johnson & Johnson Medical Device Companies new healthy workforce offerings. For example, Ohio State University in Columbus conducted an independently-run study on how the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute (HPI)® program affected depression metrics and BMI in their nursing staff.

Clinician burnout is a difficult issue to tackle, however, when addressed proactively, can help improve many different aspects of a health system – from improved employee well-being to better patient outcomes and ultimately, cost savings. 

Melinda Thiel is Vice President of Health System Value Transformation for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies. Raphaela F. O’Day, Ph.D. is Sr. Performance Coach and Innovation Catalyst for Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions 

Healthcare Business Today is a leading online publication that covers the business of healthcare. Our stories are written from those who are entrenched in this field and helping to shape the future of this industry. Healthcare Business Today offers readers access to fresh developments in health, medicine, science, and technology as well as the latest in patient news, with an emphasis on how these developments affect our lives.

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