Nurse scheduling may be one of the most challenging staff schedules to complete given the requirements that must be met. The nurse scheduling problem can be a major headache when creating schedules week after week that will likely leave some staff unhappy. This in addition to all the other demands of a nurse manager.
Nurse scheduling software has been around for decades attempting to solve the dreaded nurse scheduling problem. But the reality is that many don’t stack up. They are just another piece in the complicated puzzle of scheduling nurses to demand while keeping in mind their scheduling commitments and work preferences. This is what is known as the nurse scheduling problem.
Make Sure Standardized Staffing Policies are in Place
No matter what industry someone works in, keeping staff happy with their schedules will always be a challenge and nearly impossible to appease everyone. What all organizations should implement and nurse managers consistently apply and hold staff accountable to is scheduling policies. For instance, how far in advance staff should submit time off requests and the holiday and weekend rotation policy. Setting expectations for staff regarding scheduling can help diminish negativity that may arise with their schedule.
Understand Nurse Scheduling Constraints
The nurse scheduling problem is understood by sorting scheduling priorities into two categories: hard constraints and soft constraints.
Hard constraints are those scheduling needs that must be met to allow the facility to function. For example, the minimum number of nurses that must be on a floor at any given time, and not overscheduling nurses over a certain number of hours in a day or week. These concerns must be your first priority when scheduling to keep the system up and running.
Soft constraints are those that are not essential to operations. For instance, a staff member asking for a day off for personal reasons, not asking nurses to work overtime, and being fully staffed on a floor at all times. If one of these constraints is not met, the facility will continue to function, but it may dissatisfy staff. Because someone may have to work longer than their scheduled shift, or a department may be short staffed for a few hours.
What Health Facilities Can Do to Solve the Nurse Scheduling Problem
Big data and advanced technology have been working successfully in many industries for scheduling and other functions for over a decade. And I feel it’s only beginning to gain momentum in healthcare. One area in which it could make a critical difference is nurse scheduling. Incorporating modern modeling techniques and advanced machine learning to forecast staffing needs weeks in advance of a shift can help healthcare organizations create better schedules and staffing plans sooner. These predictions are updated weekly and pass through staffing matrices for each unit or service area, clearly identifying predicted demand versus staff supply.
Predictive analytics can help make sure hard constraints are met when scheduling nurses. And dynamic staffing software like Smart Square can also house other commitments to help meet soft constraints when possible. Setting up cyclic scheduling, tracking weekend and holiday commitments and overtime hours are all ways to keep staff happy while making sure critical staffing needs are met.