Technology is everywhere, and we see more provider organizations relying on advanced technology solutions to make improvements in patient care. The integration of enhanced data and technology provides a clear picture of an organization’s current state in order to take meaningful action to optimize resources, support staff engagement, and improve clinical and financial outcomes.
One of the most efficient and effective ways hospitals and health systems can drive improvements in their organizations is to automate the scheduling process. But implementing a new software does not guarantee success by itself. And if that software was not made for the healthcare industry and lacks predictive analytics for accurate forecasting, scheduling automation will not deliver the expected outcomes.
With the right scheduling solution, education and planning, and utilizing it appropriately, best practice automated scheduling tools will return significant time back to managers to focus on patient care and staff development, among other outcomes. When automating the scheduling process, there are several guidelines that you should follow to maximize optimization. Three best scheduling practices include:
- Scheduling to predicted demand
- Scheduling practices are standardized across the enterprise
- FTE leakage is reviewed and monitored
Scheduling to predicted demand
Key to successful scheduling outcomes is staffing to forecasted demand. Without using predictive analytics, this requires a lot of guesswork and typically results in constant “in-the-moment” staffing decisions. This is costly in terms of budget and staff morale. With predictive analytics able to accurately forecast staffing needs months in advance, schedules can be built and balanced according to predicted needs, which vary shift to shift and day to day.
Scheduling practices are standardized across the enterprise
If scheduling practices – such as period length and parameters for weekend and holiday commitments – vary unit to unit, chaotic and costly staffing outcomes result. Managers should adhere to standardized timelines for schedule submission and requests to consistently have accurate and up-to-date schedule information available. Benefits of aligning and standardizing scheduling practices include consistent timelines to have a clear proactive view of staffing outcomes as well as much easier and better reporting and analytics processes, since timelines are consistent across the organization. Standardized scheduling practices lead to greater staff satisfaction and improved employee retention, and maximizes core staff resources which curtails the costs of contingency labor. Expectations and clear accountability should fall on unit managers, meaning they are responsible for ensuring all staff are scheduled to FTE and other commitments, and schedules are balanced and in line with predicted demand. If scheduling is done centrally, through a resource management center (RMC), they can assist with this monitoring and return even more time back to unit managers.
FTE leakage is reviewed and monitored
With automated scheduling, staff commitments are tracked automatically. Staff hours should be reviewed prior to schedule submission to ensure all staff have met their FTE. Consistent monitoring of FTE commitments helps to avoid FTE leakage – hours lost due to a staff member not being scheduled to their FTE commitment (e.g., a nurse being scheduled 36 hours one week, calls in for a 12 hours shift and does not work any hours to make up the shift or use PTO). Often, contingency resources – including core staff in overtime or float staff – are needed to cover the hours lost due to FTE leakage. The other option is to pull core staff from other units (floating), which is a major staff dissatisfier. By monitoring FTE leakage, an organization can reduce exorbitant labor costs and improve staff morale by making sure staff are working their expected schedule.
Automating the scheduling process does not inherently solve all your staffing problems. It takes a collaborative effort to work with technology and apply best practices to achieve the optimal outcomes.