Medical errors are now the third highest cause of death, accounting for more than 250,000 deaths per year in the US. (1) Second only to heart disease and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (3) Many believe this estimate is too low and the true number of deaths is around 400,000 per year (2).
The cost of medical errors to the United States was estimated at $19.5 billion in 2008, but some believe today this number is actually closer to 1 trillion. (4) Consequently, improving patient safety and quality has become a major focus for public policy and healthcare systems nationwide.
Although experts may argue the real numbers, actual costs, and root causes of medical errors, there is no argument that patient care should be better, more efficient, and less expensive. Whether or not the medical error is due to a hospital-acquired infection, a medication-related mistake, or having the wrong kidney removed, the bottom line is far fewer patients should be harmed or injured when receiving medical care.
So where does a healthcare facility start when looking to improve quality and reduce errors? One study conducted by Gallup suggests leaderships should start by improving nursing engagement. In fact, their research found that nursing engagement is a primary factor in preventing complications and determining quality. The key finding of the study found nursing engagement to be the No. 1 predictor of mortality variation across hospitals. Suggesting the commitment and emotional involvement of the nurses was even more significant than their actual numbers. (5)
When hospitals are looking to improve healthcare quality, and patient engagement, “people” and not “technology” should be their first area of focus. Nurses are the connection between systems, patients, and physicians. They are the heart of the healthcare system, pumping blood to every department keeping the organs and system working properly. If you neglect to care for your heart, it can affect every other function. Likewise, when nurses feel undervalued, a lack of support, and burned out it can ultimately affect patient care. The research from this study has shown the significance of ensuring the heart is healthy, and why the engagement level of a nursing staff should be an organization’s top priority.
This study has shown, that nursing engagement has the strongest impact on complication and mortality rates. (5) Therefore, leadership and healthcare administrators should ask themselves if they believe their nurses are loyal and committed to their jobs and the organization? If they cannot answer yes, then patient care quality may be at risk, and improving nursing engagement should be made a strategic priority.