Ask the expert: Discussing financial topics with department staff members

Nurse Leader Insider, February 27, 2012

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This week, Pamela Hunt, BS, MSN, RN, and Deborah Laughon, RN, BSN, MS, DBA, CCRN, advise on the best strategies for engaging staff members in discussions about financial initiatives within the organization.

Q: How can I effectively communicate the financial performance aspects of my organization to my department staff?

A. Nurses and support staff from most departments have historically focused on a clinical aspect of the business of healthcare, rather than finances. When you talk to the department staff about the patient or a process that they perform regularly, the staff are attentive and listening; however, if you start talking numbers, there is a disconnect. This is not because they aren't interested; it is based on the fact that their clinical training and passion is centralized around patients and quality care. Most healthcare team members are very service-oriented and struggle to relate to healthcare as a business.
A strategy to frame communication for the staff begins with one of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits: "Seek first to understand - then to be understood." Clinical staff are passionate about things that matter to them; generally this is patient-oriented. Clinical staff often dislike hearing numbers, but if you can relate the message in a way that depicts how the information impacts their practice or patients, they generally hear it differently.
A program by the Healthcare Advisory Board shared an example about urinary tract infection rates. This is one of the nursing-sensitive indicators which were resulting in longer lengths of stay and readmissions, both of which were a concern for their clinical excellence goal as well as a negative contribution to the organizational financial performance. Despite a graph indicating the trend, the nursing staff seemed unconcerned. However, once the numbers were translated into a visual showing the unit how many patients this meant, as well as the individual caregivers for these patients, the team began to look at things with more interest. This resulted in staff showing an interest and getting involved. Their interest began with developing an understanding about the aspects of their practice that resulted in the infection, reviewing current literature about best practice, and developing a plan of action.

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