Predictive analytics and advanced labor management are the most important – and underutilized – methods to assure that provider organizations have the right caregivers in the right places at the right times.
A recent survey of nurse managers by AMN Healthcare and Avantas, Predictive Analytics in Healthcare 2016: Optimizing Nurse Staffing in an Era of Workforce Shortages, (available on the AMN website) brought the need for more awareness to light in just a few stats related to staffing and scheduling:
94 percent of nurse managers say that understaffing hurts staff morale
Nearly 70 percent say they are very concerned about the impact on patient satisfaction
More than 50 percent say they are very concerned about the effect on quality of care
The survey also revealed a lack of sophisticated scheduling tools being utilized:
24 percent use paper-based scheduling and staffing tools
19 percent use simple digital spreadsheets
23 percent don’t use any scheduling tools at all
Further, the survey found that while nearly 90 percent of nurse managers said that a technology that can accurately forecast patient demand and staffing needs would be helpful, 80 percent were unaware that such a solution exists.
Strategies to Fulfill the Potential Predictive Analytics
This process to predict future patient demand and strategically plan clinician scheduling and staffing is scalable, cost effective and accurate. First, staffing data are processed with advanced algorithms, then forecasting models are created and validated, customized for each unit or service area within the organization, allowing workforce projections up to 120 days prior to the shift. The forecast is updated weekly, and by 30 days in advance of the shift, the forecast of staffing need is 97 percent accurate.
Compared to how scheduling and staffing is conducted at most healthcare organizations today, predictive analytics may seem like something out of a sci-fi movie. The truth is, this sophisticated forecasting of labor needs has been leveraged in other industries with great success. And, in healthcare, it can lay the foundation for significant advancement in utilization of staff, leading to improvements in morale, quality, and financial results. The advanced labor management strategies and tools layered on an accurate projection of staffing needs – months and weeks in advance of the shift – will turn an accurate forecast into an effective resource management strategy.
Adopting Workforce Analytics Every organization’s staffing mix should be unique to the fluctuations in its patient volume. Once an organization understands its demand, it can then determine its supply – scheduling and staffing to meet patient demand in the most productive manner possible. The organization can analyze and solve the problems that reduce its available supply of core staff, such as leaves of absence, continuing education, training and other issues. This precision understanding of workforce availability is then layered with patient volume predictions, and the result is accurate insight into the core and contingency staffing levels needed to meet patient demand.
Guest post by Jenny Korth, CMPE, director of Project Management and Support, Avantas.
As more patients are entering the healthcare system and organizations will need to be equipped with the right processes to ensure that care is delivered by the right person at the right time to prepare for this patient influx. Effective resource management in healthcare is trickier than in a lot of 24/7/365 industries. What makes it so is that there is not one specific blueprint to managing each hospital, or even each unit within a hospital.
Fluctuating volumes in addition to geographic location, patient and staff demographics, and differences in culture, both of the area and in the organization all play factors in making resource management in healthcare far from cut and dry. This being said, there are strategies that can be universally applied to all types of healthcare organizations (single-site hospitals, academic medical centers, multi-hospital metropolitan systems, large regional systems, and systems with extensive clinics operations) to ensure they have the staff they need to care for their patients, and are able to do so in a cost effective manner.
Key to the strategies I’ll outline below is the customization needed to meet an organization’s specific needs.
Proper Staff Size
This is the basic idea of having the right number, types and layers of staff to meet patient demand. It starts with a right-sized core staff. The “right size” will vary from unit to unit, but essentially it is the number that keeps staff working to their FTE without the need for excessive overtime, floating, or cancellations.
Relative to types and layers of staff, this is where contingency staffing sources (e.g., float pools) come into play. Depending on the size of the organization it could have as many as seven different types of contingency layering to fill in when staff are not available to take an assignment or when volume spikes. These layers can include an enterprise float pool, site-based scheduled float pool, site-based PRN pool, unit-based PRN Pool, core staff in extra shifts and overtime (although this should be used sparingly), agency, and travelers. While agency and travel staff can sometimes have a negative connotation, the fact is that by maintaining relationships with the highest quality staffing organizations in your city, you will experience reduced costs, improved coordination of resources, and, with the proper contractual stipulations, prevention of agency recruitment of your core staff members.
Chris Fox, CEO of Avantas, discusses how he and his firm help physicians improve their operational performance; healthcare staffing; the need for addressing operational efficiencies across a health system without following some traditional approaches — like layoffs; and market trends that continue to perplex, yet offer opportunity for growth and development.
Avantas started as a group within Alegent Creighton Health more than a decade ago with the goal of optimizing its workforce across the health system. Its efforts were so successful that it became a separate company and began offering its expertise to the entire industry.
In 2007 Avantas developed a healthcare scheduling software, Smart Square, as no other solution on the market offered the flexibility and customization necessary to fully automate our strategies and provide a transparent view of staffing, scheduling, and productivity at the enterprise level.
Avantas executives provide thought leadership in healthcare labor management.
What keeps your passion for this mission, and the organization, alive? Tell me more about what excites you about your work and why you love what you do?
Very simply, if we are successful as a company it is because we have helped our clients – healthcare providers – improve their operational, clinical, and financial performance. Stronger healthcare providers means more services, more community outreach, basically, better, more affordable healthcare for everyone. It’s pretty easy to be passionate about that.
What draws you to healthcare? Did you seek out the sector when you began your career?
I’ve worked in software development and innovation for more than 15 years within a number of industries. It’s a funny story, but I actually got involved in healthcare because of a chance seat assignment on an airplane almost 10 years ago. I was seated next to Lorane Kinney, Avantas’ co-founder. We got to talking about Avantas and what she was trying to build there. Hearing Lorane’s passion for the company and the need to automate a new approach to labor optimization in healthcare was very inspiring. I knew I wanted to be a part of it, and I knew I could play a big role in bringing Lorane’s vision to fruition. Avantas has a compelling story and big aspirations. As Avantas’ CEO, I, like Lorane, seek out individuals who are passionate about the vision we have for the industry and want to be part of that change.
Tell me more about the evolution of Avantas, from where you started to where you’ve come today? Where are you headed and why?
Avantas started as a group within what is today Alegent Creighton Health more than a decade ago with the goal of leveraging economies of scale and standardizing its labor proactively across its then five Omaha hospitals. Our purpose was to develop and implement strategies that would leverage the system’s care staff, both proactively and in the moment to cost effectively adjust to the natural rise and fall in patient volume. Our efforts were so successful we became a separate company in 2001 and began offering our workforce management expertise to the entire industry via consulting. In 2006 Avantas conducted an RFP to find a scheduling solution we could use within our client base to automate the labor strategies we had developed. After we were unable to identify an appropriate solution we developed our own healthcare-specific enterprise scheduling solution, Smart Square. Now Smart Square is being utilized in more than 200 facilities across the country. Our strategies and technology solutions are packaged in a comprehensive methodology called HELM, which stands for healthcare enterprise labor management. HELM takes a step-by-step approach at restructuring an organization’s labor management strategy by first right-sizing its staffing sources, standardizing policies, and implementing best practices. Next we automate those policies with Smart Square. We also work with our clients to develop centralized methods of managing staffing resources as well as helping them build out the necessary layers of contingency staff, enabling them to cost effectively adjust to constantly changing patient demand. We help our clients implement these strategies across their systems: inpatient, ancillary and outpatient areas, like medical group practice sites.