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Enhance patient experience with volunteers

April 3rd, 2014

by Doug Della Pietra

Patient experience is among the top three hospital priorities today. Caregiver engagement is one of the most essential strategies for improving the patient experience. Within caregivers, volunteers represent a large population we should not forget, but rather leverage to deliver better experiences.

Next week (April 6-12), the United States celebrates National Volunteer Week's 40th anniversary. Since the 1980s, most evidence-based studies on healthcare volunteers focused on the financial and productivity implications to healthcare organizations.

Specifically, two recent studies link healthcare volunteerism to organizational performance, patient satisfaction, and the overall experience of patients and their families. In honor of the generous contribution and dedication that volunteers bring to healthcare, I'd like to shine a light on the "human touch" that volunteers offer patients and families.

[More:]

In 2009, R.B. Hotchkiss and researchers from Georgia Southern University, published "Valuing volunteers: The impact of volunteerism on hospital performance." Their purpose was to explore "the impact of the use of volunteers and the level of professionalism of volunteer programs on cost effectiveness and patient satisfaction in hospitals."

By analyzing data from 50 Florida hospitals--the majority being not-for-profit hospitals--they arrived at a few key conclusions:

  • Like other studies on the value (cost-benefit) of hospital volunteers, the financial benefits of having a volunteer program outweigh the costs.
  • Utilization of volunteers in patient settings will greatly impact the patient experience.
  • Increasing the number of volunteer service assignments (especially volunteer hours) in patient settings could raise patient satisfaction scores.
  • A well-developed volunteer program--formal recruitment methods, screening and interviewing techniques, orientation and training, policies, service guidelines, and risk management plans, etc.--will positively impact the patient experience.

(Researchers noted the limitation that their findings should be generalized to larger, nonprofit, teaching and Florida Association of Director of Volunteer Services [FADVS] member hospitals.)

In a more recent and geographically-expansive study1, researchers gathered data from more than 100 hospital volunteer administrators from five northeastern and southern states. S.E. Rogers and authors noted similar findings from the previous study. To the point, hospitals can more likely impact their overall performance, patient satisfaction and the patient experience as measured by HCAHPS if they:

  • Have a quality-maximization strategic orientation (e.g., the hospital is focused on providing higher levels of quality, even if doing so proves costly).
  • View the volunteer workforce and volunteer administrators as strategic human capital assets, capable of delivering positive ROI and worthy of organizational investments.
  • Maximize the use of high-performance volunteer resource management (VRM) practices, such as those listed above in the Hotchkiss study findings.

More and more volunteer programs are transitioning from traditional volunteer assignments (clerical work, etc.) to ones with direct patient and family interaction, and are shifting because patient- and family-focused assignments:2

  • Offer new and creative ways for volunteers to help
  • Cultivate a more engaged, loyal group of volunteers
  • Increase volunteer willingness and eagerness to give their time and their talents.

Join me in celebrating healthcare volunteerism not only by recognizing volunteers in your organization but also by "valuing volunteers" and "volunteer administrators as strategic human capital assets, capable of delivering positive ROI and worthy of organizational investments."

"Volunteers contribute greatly to personalizing, humanizing and demystifying the hospital experience." 3

Leverage the impact that your hospital volunteers can have on improving the patient experience.

1 Rogers, S. E., Jiang, K., & Rogers, C. M. (2013). "The link between hospital strategy, volunteer management, and patient satisfaction: Evidence from 107 U.S. hospitals." Proceedings of the First Global Conference on Social Impact. Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.

2 Frampton S, Guastello S, Brady C, Hale M, Horowitz S, Bennett Smith S, & Stone S. (2008). "Patient-centered care improvement guide." Derby, Conn.: Planetree.

3 Ibid.

Doug Della Pietra is the director of Customer Services and Volunteers for Rochester General Hospital in New York, where he directs an intentionally-designed patient- and family-centered volunteer program, oversees the front-line valet and guest services teams, and leads the service excellence element of the Patient Experience Initiative while co-chairing the hospital's Patient Experience Team. Follow Doug @DougDellaPietra on Twitter.

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