Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The healthier your hospital the better your outcomes

I recently attended an Oslo meeting of the Dr Foster Global Comparators, an international group of hospitals that have been working together to share data and insights related to quality and safety.  What makes the group particularly interesting is their attempts to draw comparisons across national boundaries. This is no easy task, given the different manner (and for different purposes) in which countries collect administrative and clinical data; but the group has made good progress in several areas—notably GI, stroke, sepsis, and orthopaedics. At this session, I met committed and interesting folks from the UK, US, Denmark, Norway, China, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, and Australia.

While all the presentations were engaging, the one that most intrigued me was one offered by two surgical fellows from Imperial College, Christopher Nicolay and Stephen Williams. As I understand it, Christopher conducted much of the original research, and Stephen is now going to pick up on it and carry it forward. I’ll just present a quick outline here, as I’m confident they will formally present the results elsewhere, and I don’t want to steal their thunder. 

The session was entitled, “The healthier your hospital the better your outcomes.” The hypothesis being tested was whether there might be a correlation between organizational health and clinical outcomes. The fellows first drew on the literature to help think about the elements of organizational health in hospitals. An initial definition by Chris Argyris (1958) set the stage: “A healthy organization is one that enables mature human functioning.” Then, a quote from Christin Shoaf et al (2004): “Organizational health blends the pursuit of individual wellness with organizational effectiveness to yield a strategy for economic resilience.”

Using interviews with many folks, a thoughtful model was derived for assessing organizational health for 22 acute care NHS trusts in the UK. Those assessments were then correlated with patient outcomes like mortality rates and critical incident reporting. Sure enough, there was a positive correlation.

While we’ll all look forward to the formal publication of these results, I can already predict two reactions to this kind of study. The naysayers will say that the concept of organizational health is just too fuzzy to quantify, much less correlate with measure of clinical outcomes (which, they will also say, are themselves too uncertain to use and rely upon.)

Others of us who have run hospitals, visited others, and studied others have seen that the quality of the work environment inevitably has an impact on patient outcomes. An organization in which staff wellbeing, effective communication, resilience, efficiency, and servant leadership are extant tends to be very good as a learning organization and tends to be more alert to the needs of its patients and more adept at clinical process improvement.

Stephen’s next step is to try to extend the research across national boundaries and investigate whether similar patterns might show up around the world. Congratulations to these two young men for taking on this topic and helping us gain deeper insights into the matter. 


Abhishek Bhartia said...

The findings make intuitive sense to me - in healthy organizations, staff can focus on making things better, while in places that lack a good environment people are defensive and hesitant to put in the effort needed to improve. I look forward to learning more about this study and thank you for bringing it to our attention!!

Christopher Cornue said...

I was involved in the early identification of US AMCs for this wonderful work. Great to see these ongoing efforts. This is important work as we move toward global health not limited by boundaries. This project and its ongoing results need to be disseminated further. So happy to see the progress. Thanks for sharing, Paul!