The Importance of Relationships to Healthcare Delivery

By Keith Carlson via Multibriefs

When a patient walks through the door of a physician’s office, the success of that visit is largely predicated upon the relationship between the doctor and the patient. If a nurse is readying an anxious patient for surgery, the nurse’s ability to connect with that individual and provide compassionate care is crucial. And when a school nurse tends to a disabled child’s tracheostomy, the previously established trust between child and adult is central to comfort and a sense of mutuality.

Healthcare is built upon a foundation of relationships; without those links, the provision of such care can feel sterile, lifeless, and devoid of any deeper meaning.

Without the qualities of interrelatedness and empathy, healthcare delivery is no more than a transactional service being rendered. Intelligent organizations and providers ignore this reality at their peril.

Relationships and the Web of Connection

As consumers of healthcare services, patients have relationships with both providers and organizations. Loyalty is hard won in such a competitive space, and no hospital, nurse practitioner’s office, or clinic wants to be perceived as uncaring or disconnected from the communities they serve.

On the macro level, healthcare institutions provide crucial services across the lifespan. Some hospitals are very good at nurturing relationships with the surrounding community through public relations campaigns and community service projects, volunteerism, sponsorship of civic activities, and other valuable forms of connection.

On the micro level, relationships also matter. As mentioned above, every provider of healthcare needs to understand their place in the web of connection. Employees are representatives of the institutions that employ them, and every interaction with patients is key to the development of loyalty and trust over time.

Moreover, relationships between staff members are also worthy of our attention. When bullying or aberrant behavior run rampant, this directly and indirectly impacts quality of care. A surgeon who ignores a nurse who questions an erroneous order would be prudent to pay attention and listen.

A nurse manager who fails to notice her direct reports’ dissatisfaction and unhappiness potentially faces high levels of attrition and the need to hire and train even more nursing staff who lack valuable institutional knowledge. And a hospital executive who fails to get acquainted with employees and understand their needs is missing a golden opportunity.

The value of relationships in healthcare simply cannot be overstated in terms of their impact on quality of care, employee retention, community relationships, and patient satisfaction and loyalty.

Multiple Bottom Lines

While the financial bottom line is what most executives and leaders likely consider most often, there is a relational bottom line that should not be overlooked. Profits matter, but so do people, and without the individuals and groups who populate a healthcare institution — both patients and staff — the means will not produce anything close to the desired financial end.

As mentioned above, employee attrition is something to keep a keen eye on since this can greatly impact both profits and quality of care. Replacing lost staff members is costly, and new employees need time to onboard, be trained, and acclimate to their new work environment. Healthcare institutions with high turnover rates lose a great deal of quality in terms of internal relationships, and astute patients can pick up on subtle (and not so subtle) signs that a hospital, clinic, or office is having troublesome personnel and staffing issues.

The eradication of bullying and negative workplace behavior, the nurturing of community relationships, assiduous team-building, and staff retention can all serve the greater cause of the multiple bottom lines faced in the 21st-century healthcare milieu. Competition for healthcare dollars is fierce, and leaders and executives must think outside the box and focus on smart strategies for achieving success.

Relationships matter at the macro and micro levels within the facility itself and outside on the streets of the surrounding community. Individual and collective relational intelligence can go a long way towards creating healthcare services that benefit all parties with a stake in the game.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway, a widely read freelance nurse writer, and motivational/keynote speaker. Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, a popular nursing career podcast. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.


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