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Magnet Designation: Is It Worth It?

This blog post excerpts an article by HealthStream Product manager Gwen Wright in the Spring 2015 issue of HealthStream's PX Advisor, our quarterly magazine designed to bring you thought leadership and best practices for improving the patient experience.   

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Magnet Recognition Program® honors hospitals for excellence in nursing leadership, clinical practice, innovations, and positive outcomes. The current program has its roots in a ground-breaking study conducted by the American Academy of Nursing over 30 years ago. That study sought to identify the work environments that attract and retain well-qualified nurses who promote quality patient care. The label “Magnet hospital” was originally given to a group of hospitals that were able to successfully recruit and retain professional nurses during a national nursing shortage in the early 1980s. 

The ANCC used the results of that study to outline the “Forces of Magnetism” that are used to this day to define Magnet hospitals. The program remained relatively constant from 1994 when the ANCC named the University of Washington Medical Center the first Magnet®-designated hospital, to 2008 when the Commission on Magnet introduced a fundamental shift in the model to incorporate outcomes. The ANCC says, “Although structure and process create the infrastructure for excellence, the outcomes of that infrastructure are essential to a culture of excellence and innovation.” The current Magnet model configures the Forces of Magnetism into five components, which are:

  1. Transformational Leadership
  2. Structural Empowerment
  3. Exemplary Professional Practice
  4. New Knowledge, Innovations, & Improvements
  5. Empirical Quality Outcomes 

Is Magnet® Designation Worth It?

The Magnet journey is long, exacting and expensive. The application and appraisal fees alone can amount to over $60,000 for large medical centers. And, it’s not uncommon for hospitals to devote high-level staff to internal administration of the program. So, why have over 400 hospitals in the United States and abroad committed the time, effort and dollars to achieve Magnet Designation? The ANCC cites the following as key benefits:

  • Attract and retain top talent
  • Improve patient care, safety and satisfaction
  • Foster a collaborative culture
  • Advance nursing standards and practice
  • Grow your business and financial success

Year after year, Magnet-recognized hospitals are highly represented in the U.S. News Best Hospitals in America Honor Roll. In the Leapfrog Hospital Survey, Magnet designation automatically earns full credit for Safe Practice #9 Nursing Workforce. This section of the survey scores hospitals on their commitment to staffing with highly-trained nurses and putting nurses in leadership positions that allow them substantial input on patient safety issues.

According to Gen Guanci, MEd, RN-BC, CCRN, Consultant at Creative Health Care Management, Magnet organizations see decreased adverse patient outcomes, such as hospital-acquired pressure ulcers, falls, and central line bloodstream infections. Some ask if it wouldn’t be smarter to put this money into increasing staffing. Guanci says, “Staffing alone does not ensure better patient outcomes. Ownership of data by direct care nurses, as well as RN education levels, has proven to improve patient satisfaction, as well as nurse sensitive outcomes. It is a healthy work environment fostered by a Magnet journey that has been proven to improve patient outcomes. The Magnet journey has helped raise the level of RN professionalism in every organization I’ve worked with.” Magnet hospitals impact patient outcomes by investing in the ongoing nursing education and career development needed to provide safe, high quality patient care.

Another key benefit of a Magnet designation is RN retention, which can translate into major savings. The ANCC reports that 7 of the 11 healthcare organizations in the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For are Magnet-recognized facilities or have Magnet facilities in their system. Some industry experts report the average cost to replace a bedside nurse is about 75% of their annual salary. This figure does not include the costs to cover that vacancy, such as overtime and agency usage. The costs associated with Magnet designation could be saved on the backend pretty quickly if an organization was able to decrease vacancy rates, which is a common result for Magnet-designated organizations.


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