Preventing Loss: Lessons to be Learned From the Healthcare Industry
By KYMBERLEE KEEFE, president of K&B Risk Advisors
In challenging and uncertain economic times, aggressive and savvy loss control becomes more than just a job description; it often becomes a core strategy for survival. As such, the message risk managers, CEOs and CFOs must always remember is: "The risk we manage is the loss we won't have."
The healthcare industry has been taking notable steps to manage its risk for decades. From a focus on prevention to an emphasis on quality, the steps taken have helped to significantly reduce workers' compensation and general liability risk across a number of areas.
MUCH IN COMMON
The healthcare industry shares many workforce characteristics with other industries: an aging employee population; high employee turnover rate; significant percentage of hourly workers; and, as with most businesses in today's economy, a faltering bottom line.
So it stands to reason that other industries--from hospitality to retail to manufacturing--can learn from the programs, risk strategies and focus implemented by the healthcare industry.
Lesson 1: Reduce employee turnover.
No matter the industry, frequent turnover of staff negatively impacts superior customer service while often increasing liability and the chance for employee injury. Trained and experienced staff can help to avert errors and injuries and can appropriately address customer service issues before they become liability issues.
Hospitals strive to retain experienced staff--especially trained caregivers--by offering flexible schedules, competitive pay, strong benefits packages, and a safe and comfortable environment. In your own industry, look for similar ways to retain your most valued employees.
Lesson 2: Show empathy. The fundamental strategy of risk management is to minimize the chance for accidents or losses before they occur. However, even in the best risk management environment, accidents occur. How an organization handles those incidents plays a significant role in managing risk.
Hospitals and physicians are now moving beyond the old strategy of deny and defend. Many have developed programs and initiatives encouraging healthcare providers to apologize for unplanned events or outcomes when they occur. It turns out there is solid strategy behind this principle. Malpractice lawyers say that what often leads people to sue is not the error itself but rather the lack of an empathetic reaction or response when an incident occurs.
One major university health system was able to reduce existing claims and lawsuits by more than 50 percent over a six-year period after it developed a program combining full disclosure and apologies.
From airlines and hotels that overbook to a manufacturer that misses a shipping deadline; think of ways your industry can incorporate this proven concept of customer service.
Lesson 3: Manage stakeholder expectations. Another reason people sue is because their expectations have not been met, or they feel they have even been "betrayed." The government has recently implemented a five-star quality rating system for the skilled nursing industry. The goal is to help patients and their families measure the quality of care and services provided in a nursing facility.
While the rating system is receiving mixed reviews, it appears at the least that it assists potential residents and their families in better understanding the skilled facility environment, helping to better manage their expectations.
While other industries may not have the same issues as nursing homes and long-term healthcare facilities, virtually every business needs to ensure its customers know what to expect in terms of product, service, cost and deliverables.
Lesson 4: Educate and communicate with employees as well as
"customers." Healthcare facilities have frequent in-service meetings to educate employees on everything from proper lifting protocols to the importance of washing hands. In fact, proper hand-washing techniques have become a corner stone of a multifaceted risk management program--from reducing infection risks to meeting mandated guidelines to ultimately lowering lawsuits. Many hospitals even have signs posted in various areas, asking patients to remind their caregivers to wash their hands.
At one major hospital that implemented a hand-washing program, infections due to bacteria in catheters fell 55 percent and pneumonia caused by poor hand washing was reduced by 78 percent.
What a simple step--and what a significant way to reduce risk to both employees and patients.
Every industry has its own example of similar seemingly small steps that, if followed, could prevent common injuries or accidents. Find those examples in your own business and develop targeted programs that will address such situations.
TAKE A PAGE
While times are difficult, efforts to minimize loss and reduce risk must remain key initiatives even as companies struggle to remain viable. Taking a page from the lessons of healthcare companies--from prevention to training to communication to education--can help any organization reinvigorate their risk management programs and develop approaches that will manage risk by minimizing losses and helping to control costs.
April 1, 2009
Copyright 2009© LRP Publications