Shining the Spotlight on Good News in Healthcare

We hear a lot in the national media about the state of healthcare in our nation today. And what we’re hearing about is most likely high costs, the numbers of uninsured, lack of access, or system inefficiencies. It’s enough to make the most optimistic person throw up his hands in despair.

Yet, there is plenty of good news in healthcare today in a variety of areas. U.S. hospitals are treating sicker patients (with better survival rates) than they were 10 years ago. Research hospitals and medical equipment advances continue to provide more effective options for battling illness. And every day, in countless hospitals across the country, healthcare workers are delivering on a commitment to improve patient care in many areas.

Responsiveness and Patient Satisfaction

The World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked the United States first among 191 member countries in terms of responsiveness. This means that our healthcare providers can be proud of the fact that they are responsive to patients’ needs for choice of provider, dignity, timely care, and confidentiality.

At the same time, patient satisfaction in U.S. hospitals has maintained positive momentum over the past five years. According to Press Ganey, a patient satisfaction research firm, “The national trend in patient satisfaction has continued its steady upward climb, demonstrating organizations’ commitment to quality care.” Since hospitals began reporting Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) data last March, Press Ganey reports a significant increase in patient satisfaction, representing the most positive service quality delivery in inpatient care that our nation has ever experienced.

Commitment to Quality and Cost Reduction

Some of the most pervasive good news in healthcare comes from the commitment to improving quality and safety while reducing errors and costs. According to the Joint Commission, U.S. hospitals are making measurable strides in the quality of care provided for patients with heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia, and surgical conditions. Some of these improvements have been dramatic with a greater emphasis on prevention. For instance, pneumonia patients receiving information about smoking cessation have increased from about 37 percent to nearly 90 percent in a five-year period.

Hospitals also demonstrated 90 percent or higher compliance with 10 of the Joint Commission’s 16 National Patient Safety Goal requirements that address issues such as medication safety, caregiver communication, and preventing patient falls.

There has always existed a direct link between improving efficiency in healthcare and reducing cost. ThedaCare, a system based in central Wisconsin, estimates that its work to improve efficiency in 2005 and 2006 cut costs by $22 million a year, without layoffs, while reducing medical errors. This was a direct result of employees at all levels digging in and believing that they could make an impact.

And as more and more healthcare providers focus on improving quality and efficiency, next year’s healthcare costs, while still increasing across the nation, are projected to reflect the lowest increase in 10 years.

It may be optimistic to say that there is a positive aspect of rising healthcare costs, but there is. Increases have driven consumers to be more aware of what they are getting for their money, and what they can do to use the healthcare system more efficiently. Consumers are looking to use healthcare responsibly and are focusing on preventative care. Likewise, more employers are implementing workplace wellness programs in order to create a healthier workforce that will be less likely to drive up insurance costs. The addition of health savings accounts (HSAs) is another consumer-driven approach that is helping the consumer understand and take a more active role in controlling their costs.

Look to Healthcare for Career Growth

Despite a recently bleak employment picture, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that almost half of the 30 fastest-growing occupations right now are in its Health Services category.

Technological advances and a growing need are fuelling a high demand for trained healthcare professionals. Both hospital and physician office employment are up almost 3 percent from a year ago, and this growth is projected to continue, generating 3 million new wage and salary jobs between now and 2016, more than any other industry.

Healthcare is an often volatile topic that is most likely not leaving the national spotlight any time soon. By committing to work toward increasing patient satisfaction and quality while reducing costs, healthcare professionals across the country can help make sure there is plenty of good news to shine in that spotlight.

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