How Can Hospital Culture Drive Improved Patient Care?

What makes a hospital great? hearth-1674896_960_720Each year, a variety of industry lists designate which hospitals are ‘the best,’ including U.S. News & World Report rankings, CMS star ratings, Leapfrog grades and Truven Health Analytics. While many of these rankings use important metrics such as excellence in clinical care, patient outcomes and physician satisfaction, they often fail to recognize the intangible piece of what it truly takes to make a great hospital – culture. Great hospitals embrace foundational values that support day-to-day operations and encourage innovative ideas for continuous improvement.

Start by setting the right tone

Facilitating a strong hospital culture is a significant endeavor. It takes patience and persistence. It starts with leadership that is approachable and encourages innovative thinking. With a relationship-based culture where leaders are listeners, the organization is more likely to talk about – and take steps to address – problems that could lead to failures down the line. By recognizing that any idea can lead to better operations, regardless of one’s background or role, individuals are more likely to speak up when they notice a problem that affects their ability to deliver quality patient care. This type of environment can foster innovative thinking that leads to improvements across the organization.

A hospital with a culture that encourages constructive criticism and is not afraid to take a hard look in the mirror is one that is more likely to succeed. While it is important to celebrate one’s triumphs, the ability to remain determined to continuously improve is what makes a hospital or health system successful.

Numbers don’t tell all: Seek out the long-term solution

Quantitative numbers are useful indicators of a good hospital, but they are not the sole definition of success. When day-to-day business operations are under scrutiny, it is easy to focus on the hard metrics that help a hospital make or remain on these lists, such as market share or satisfaction scores. But, maintaining sight of a healthy culture is needed to support ongoing strong performance. It is more important to manage the underlying cultural determinants of success to maintain great results.

Executives naturally want performance metrics to improve as soon as they see falling numbers. But excessive focus on short term results may distract from the effort needed to manage long term performance. This is the essential cultural piece that leads to sustained success.

Where technology fits into driving success

Technology can help organizations improve processes; however, hospitals sometimes adopt technology that is either not suited to their needs or does not get to the root cause of an issue. Hospitals should focus on strategic technology investment that supports their long-term success.

Technology can optimize a hospital’s unique workflows, create a patient-centered experience and empower physicians with the right information at the right time. This can lead to a more collaborative and robust culture, all while working to improve patient outcomes.

Hospitals will often see internal frustrations arise when fitting new technology into workflows. Some of this is natural and predictable. However, if the technology helps people do their work, the transition is generally brief and manageable. Ultimately, hospitals that stay focused on delivering the best patient care while driving continuous improvement will see results.