By Amy Steinbinder
U.S. healthcare has entered a period of great change. Healthcare expenses—already accounting for approximately 18 percent of the nation’s economy—are set to skyrocket as the population ages and seeks additional services and care. At the same time, health policies and legal guidelines remain in flux as states adopt and adapt to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Both providers and hospital systems are scrambling for tools and cost-effective solutions to both meet the pressures of America’s growing demand for healthcare and manage rising costs, a need that has been made all the more pressing by the ACA’s emphasis on outcomes.
In this uncertain environment, a distinct demand exists for outside experts who can help guide healthcare professionals through a changing, and often confusing, regulatory environment. Consultants with expertise in a specific aspect of care or avenue of delivery have ample opportunity to influence the healthcare field—especially those who can inform and improve hospitals’ nursing practices.
NURSING STAFF A VALUABLE RESOURCE
As hospitals face tightening budgets, rising costs, and new ACA reimbursement requirements and care incentives, the nursing staff is becoming an increasingly valuable resource. Nurses are on the front lines of patient care; with the help of smart consultants, who can measure and collect pertinent data, they are poised to drive measurable results and improved outcomes.
In every hospital, nurses are essential to the efficient and effective delivery of care. A skilled and well-staffed team can ease the work of other practitioners, improve patient safety and satisfaction, and lower costs for the hospital’s administration and American taxpayers.
These benefits are well documented. According to research funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) along with other health organizations, properly staffed hospitals tend to deliver higher quality care, and as a result, see lower rates of poor patient outcomes, such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and shock. Patients in these hospitals also experience shorter stays, on average.
Nurses also contribute to a coordinated continuum of care—a model that has proven to improve patient outcomes by eliminating unnecessary and duplicative care and reducing the length of hospitalization. And that saves money across the healthcare system.
RNS SAVE MONEY
Studies confirm that while hiring additional full-time RNs increases operating expenses slightly, it has no significant effect on hospitals’ profit margins. In other words, the improved care nurses offer more than covers their salaries. Meanwhile, nurse turnover can cost as much as $64,000 per RN.
In our evolving healthcare landscape, the impact nurses have on quality care and its cost will only increase. The nation is moving quickly toward the “pay-for-performance” approach seen in Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and encouraged by the ACA, in which organizations must measure and achieve quality goals to qualify for financial incentives; the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is already requiring this of healthcare organizations that receive funding (e.g., HCHAPS and CG-CAHPS for patient satisfaction).
More than ever before, hospitals are using data to support strategic initiatives, show improvements, and identify evidence based best practices—and they are looking to their nursing staffs to be engaged in that process. The focus is no longer, “what are you responsible for handling?” but “how can you show that what you’re doing makes a difference?”
THE ROLE OF CONSULTANTS
Consultants can play an important role in helping hospitals meet new goals and quantifiably demonstrate advancements. As external experts, we can offer an unbiased viewpoint and cultivate and analyze data to inform hospitals’ short- and long-term strategies.
In my more than 30 year career in health care and consulting, I’ve seen firsthand—through roles in the quality and patient safety departments, as a Service Excellence administrator, Patient Safety Officer, Magnet Program Director, and now as a consultant—how valuable this type of measurement can be. Experienced professionals who understand the importance of quantitative outcomes and what it takes to demonstrate improvement are incredibly valuable in today’s industry.
Our profession can get smart on these issues and processes. There are numerous systems and resources that we can tap to advance our healthcare knowledge and more effectively serve as advisors to hospitals and healthcare systems. And many of these tools are specific to the role nurses play in providing quality care and driving outcomes.
For instance, I earned a professional credential through the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Fundamentals of Magnet leadership course to help guide hospitals through the Magnet Recognition application process, a credential for organizations that exhibit exemplary nursing practices. The journey to earn Magnet status has real impact on hospitals, staff, patients, outcomes and their bottom lines.
THE PRESCRIPTION FOR SUCCESS
More than ever, hospitals and nurses must work together to markedly improve their quality of care by meeting new and continually developing standards driven by healthcare reform. Consultants can be instrumental to hospitals and nurses as they strive to prevent readmission and partner with patients to improve their safety and satisfaction.
Ultimately, I began consulting because my work can have real impact. As a healthcare consultant, I am seen as someone who can really make a difference in improving processes and developing strategies—a source of new ideas and best practices. The healthcare industry is searching for solutions and well-versed consultants have a great opportunity to provide the tools and expertise to find them.
Helping hospitals adapt in the ever-shifting healthcare landscape, especially through nursing, is the perfect backdrop for implementing real change and generating tangible results.
Amy Steinbinder, Managing Partner of Thunderbird Leadership Consulting, has more than 30 years of experience in healthcare and consulting.