Improving Quality is a Priority? Start with your Culture
How to Improve Patient Outcomes by Increasing Emotional Safety in Healthcare
Improving the quality of care for any healthcare organization requires a team effort. Leaders can help cultivate greater collaboration by ensuring that every individual feels safe and supported at work. One of the ways to do that is by providing employees with resources that help them cope in times of heightened stress and strain such as amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
By attending to the well-being of employees at the individual level, leaders in healthcare settings build a sense of trust that extends to larger organizational units. Once individuals feel cared for and safe in their work environment, they have more energy to dedicate to helping teammates and caring for patients.
Healthcare provider burnout doesn’t just affect an individual’s emotional and physical health. Even if workers have the best of intentions, the level of care they provide drops when their minds are preoccupied with attending to the challenges they may be facing themselves. Providing excellent care becomes much easier when individuals are given the tools that can help them feel more at peace in all aspects of their personal and work life.
Let’s look at a few ways in which helping individuals feel safe and happy at work can lead to better outcomes – for both patients and organizations.
CULTIVATING STRONGER AND MORE RESILIENT TEAMS
Research shows that a sense of psychological safety has also been shown to lead to better organizational performance.  Feeling emotionally and psychologically safe increases motivation and increases collaboration amongst team members. When employees feel like the organization cares about their overall well-being, they feel even more driven to give back by contributing to the well-being of those whose lives they touch.
The more that employees feel they can be themselves, the easier it is for them to communicate openly rather than withdrawing or being defensive.  If issues arise while working with a patient or another team member, those who feel emotionally safe are more likely to work with their colleagues to resolve these issues early. They feel more empowered to speak up without fear of judgement or retaliation. This strengthens teams and provides more space for innovation and creative problem-solving.
Individuals who learn to become aware of their predisposed emotional reactions are able to more consciously choose their response when dealing with coworkers or patients. If an individual becomes aware of his tendency to become defensive or judgemental when dealing with a certain colleague for example, he can then make the conscious effort to see that colleague in a different light.
IMPROVING RELATIONSHIPS AND ADDRESSING BIAS
Creating an emotionally safe culture means providing training to help teams address interpersonal issues such as racial or cultural bias. Many of these are the result of long-standing cultural conditioning. Stereotypes and judgements become so deeply ingrained that they reside on an unconscious level. We may then act on them without even being aware of it.
Unprofessional behavior in hospitals such as outbursts and overreactions can have a detrimental effect on outcomes. For example, imagine a nurse who sees that a patient needs the physician’s help. She is too afraid to contact the physician because he tends to be rude towards her because she is a woman of color. She doesn’t call him in time to attend to the patient’s needs. The patient then suffers greater pain and trauma – all as a result of the nurse’s fear of being treated unkindly. Unfortunately, as the American College of Physician Executives found, many hospitals still tolerate this kind of behavior.
Mindfulness brings the awareness that helps us notice and examine our beliefs about others. Cultivating greater emotional safety starts with helping employees notice these mental patterns. When colleagues feel like they can trust one another, it reflects in their actions towards patients.
INCREASING LEVELS OF CARE BY REDUCING BURNOUT
One of the best ways to help employees feel safe and supported at work is by helping them deal with personal stress and overwhelm. When an individual feels more empowered and at ease, they are in a better position to help others.
When employees are stressed and burned out, they are more likely to be careless. This increases the chance of medical error – one of the greatest challenges that healthcare organizations face.
By providing training that specifically helps each worker learn how to navigate through challenging and stressful times, healthcare organizations are directly contributing to better patient outcomes.
Mindfulness helps people cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness so they can respond more consciously and skillfully to life’s challenges. Once they are able to recognize themselves as greater than any circumstances in life, people are less likely to feel overwhelmed by any particular event. Through learning to notice their automatic reactions in an objective manner, they can build the resilience to handle stress and difficult situations with more ease.
HELPING PATIENTS HEAL FASTER THROUGH GREATER COMPASSION
As healthcare providers learn to navigate their personal challenges, they have more capacity to have an open heart and to treat others with more compassion. Greater compassion then leads to meeting each patient beyond just the level of their diagnosis or symptoms.
This is what ultimately affects the quality of the patient’s experience. Warm and kind employees are much more likely to put a patient at ease. They help reduce unnecessary stress that could further exacerbate the patient’s condition. The more relaxed a patient feels around a healthcare provider, the less stress they experience.
As all healthcare providers know, stress is a leading cause of many diseases. It is counterproductive to the body’s natural ability to heal. Providing a sense of care, ease and support directly translates into a more relaxed environment that decreases stress and thus promotes healing. According to a study by MacAllister, Bellanti & Sakallaris, attentiveness and caring of the hospital staff was found to be an important component of an optimal healing environment.
MEETING ONE ANOTHER ON THE LEVEL OF HUMANITY
Thanks to neuroplasticity, we all have the ability to cultivate the traits that allow us to have deeper and more meaningful connections with one another. We can strengthen our neural muscles of compassion, attention, and care. We can also reduce our judgements, bias, fear-based and unconscious reactions.
Beyond the roles of patient and caregiver – or employee and employer – we are all human beings. Our common humanity is brought out when we tend to the suffering of others. Yet many healthcare systems don’t cultivate the organizational culture that supports this view.
Providing training that helps employees be more mindful can help increase their sense of compassion for themselves, colleagues, and patients.
MINDFULNESS BRINGS MORE HEART TO HEALTHCARE
Mindfulness is a tool that can help bring more heart into healthcare by instilling greater feelings of emotional safety. One worker at a time, organizations can build stronger teams that provide excellent and compassionate care. When mindfulness training is provided to healthcare staff with the intention of improving relationships and collaborations, it helps bring long-term improvements to the quality of service provided to patients.
WisdomWay Institute can help you put these insights into practice by bringing the powerful tool of mindfulness training to your organization. Contact us today to explore how we can work with you to help improve more patients’ lives together.
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- Knowledge exchange and combination: the role of human resource practices in the performance of high-technology firms, Collins & Smith https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091305
- Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work, Kahn WA https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091305
- 7 Ways to Improve patient outcomes in the new world of value-based care https://healthmanagement.org/c/hospital/whitepaper/7-ways-to-improve-patient-outcomes-in-the-new-world-of-value-based-care
- How does stress affect us?, Michael Ashworth Ph.D
- Exploring inpatient’s experiences of healing and healing spaces, MacAllister, Bellanti & Sakallaris
Karen Laing is a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher with experience in trauma and caregiving. She's spent the last 25 years supporting families through major life transitions such as birth and postpartum care.
She founded Birthways over 20 years ago to support expectant families and provide training and support for birthworkers. She created WisdomWay as a means to continue supporting all caregivers with mindfulness-based training and certifications. She speaks nationwide on mindfulness, parenting, caregiving, and mental health.