Reducing adverse patient events, such as infections or falls, is a critical focus point for hospitals and health systems. Not only does reducing medical errors have positive outcomes for patients, it is also important from a financial perspective, as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has begun to implement value-based care models that incorporate risk-sharing with the potential to withhold payment for preventable hospital-acquired injuries or illnesses.
As the American Nurses Association (ANA) states on its page dedicated to safe staffing (linked above), “Safe staffing can be a matter of life and death, and achieving the right staffing levels requires nurses and management working together.” I’d take this a step further to make sure other key stakeholders, i.e., Finance, HR, and Operations, are included. It takes collaboration to orchestrate the effective and efficient delivery of patient care.
The aging workforce means experienced Baby Boomer nurses are retiring and/or reducing hours and the resulting experience gap is a growing concern. In The Advisory Board’s “Why Health Care Leaders Don’t Understand Millennials” they noted that millennials seek job satisfaction and flexibility and will quickly leave organizations if not satisfied, increasing turnover rates and posing a duel threat to healthcare providers.
But there is a solution gaining traction in healthcare staffing: predictive analytics.
Estimating the likelihood of future events based on patterns in historical data, predictive analytics allow clinicians and administrative staff to make more informed decisions.
Thanks to advances in machine learning, AI, neural networks (also called deep learning), etc., it has become possible to automate certain management functions in order to drive efficiencies and allow healthcare managers to focus on more critical issues such as patient outcomes. Using predictive analytics, healthcare organizations can better forecast staffing needs well in advance of the shift. Creating more accurate schedules sooner results in a much more efficient and effective workforce with less expense and a lot less frustration for managers and staff.
Provider organizations that have used predictive analytics for nurse scheduling and staffing have achieved outcomes that include increased staff satisfaction scores, improved nurse retention, and reductions in annual labor spend. Additionally, nurse managers spend less time on schedule creation and staffing tasks, which delivers valuable time back to them to focus on patient care and staff development. Even more, ensuring the right staffing levels assists in delivering safe care to patients, potentially reducing medical errors and improving outcomes.
In addition to utilizing predictive analytics to forecast staffing needs, it is also important to take a look at your workforce demographics. This allows provider organizations to appropriately plan for their workforce. For example, if your staff is largely made up of young and low-tenured nurses, it is worth considering how to recruit more experienced nurses to develop a solid coaching and mentoring program. If your staff is nearing retirement, focusing on succession planning is necessary.
One approach to dealing with an aging workforce is to tap into the millennial workforce and recent graduates. In general, this group of nurses enjoys flexibility and opportunities that offer variety. Some provider organizations have been successful utilizing millennial nurses and recent grads in their float pools. With an effective training program in place, these nurses get to experience working in a multitude of areas, effectively building their skills while enjoying the flexibility they desire. This is a good opportunity for recently graduated nurses to work on different units before possibly finding an area they would like to commit to.
As growing research shows that appropriate nurse staffing contributes to improved patient outcomes and greater satisfaction for both patients and staff, the nursing shortage has made it a challenge. But safe staffing is possible through workforce optimization. It requires viewing staff through a different lens and rethinking what healthcare staffing looks like. Thinking outside of the box and embracing new technologies will help ensure positive patient outcomes.