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VA Data Links Employee Engagement to Patient Satisfaction

Engaged workers are better workers. This correlation seems to make sense, but there has been less attention given to its applicability in the public sector.

The Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) addressed this issue by reviewing data over a three-year span from close to 150 medical centers overseen by the Veterans Affairs Department (VA). Almost all the data used came from the Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) reports, which are released every quarter by the VA as assessments of the performance of each medical center. The Partnership and BCG compiled three years of SAIL data for each medical center. The VA medical centers help serve more than nine million veterans every year.

The researchers found that medical centers with higher reported levels of employee engagement also had higher levels of patient satisfaction, better call center performance, and lower turnover of registered nurses. However, there was no link between engagement and the patient mortality ratio, the 30-day readmission rate, and the rate of foreseeable in-hospital difficulties.

Patient experience is crucial to the VA because its hospitals often deliver higher levels of medical care but have lower levels of patient satisfaction in terms of the communications received from doctors and nurses. Patients at VA hospitals were less likely to recommend VA hospitals compared with non-VA hospitals; the researchers posited that this can change if employee engagement is taken into account. The researchers found that a one-point increase in employee engagement is correlated with an approximately half-point increase in patient satisfaction with the medical center overall.

Employee engagement was also a driver for better call center service. Data shows that as employee engagement increases, the time it takes to answer calls decreases, and the number of unanswered calls decreases. It took call centers over 69 seconds on average to respond to requests between 2016 and 2018.

The VA has to consider hiring and retaining nurses as one of its top priorities: There are 335,000 positions in the VA and 40,000 are vacant. Most of the 40,000 unoccupied positions are medical positions.

The Partnership and BCG stated that they “hope the results presented in this issue brief will compel leaders at all levels across the federal government to invest in the engagement of their employees — not because it will make them happier, but because it will result in better performance and improved services for the public.”

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