Best Practices for Automating and Optimizing Staffing in Healthcare Organizations

Highlights

  • Implementing app-based, on-demand staffing with predictive analytics is essential for optimizing staff scheduling in healthcare.
  • Key best practices include fostering technology adoption through change management and continuously optimizing staffing.
  • View scheduling as an ongoing journey, not a one-time initiative. Continuously collect staff feedback, assess metrics, update models and refine practices for lasting optimization.

Effective staff scheduling is critical for healthcare organizations. By using the right strategies and tools, healthcare providers can improve staff satisfaction, reduce costs and enhance patient care. This article will explore best practices for leveraging app-based, on-demand staffing technology and predictive analytics to achieve peak workforce optimization.

The importance of optimized staffing

In healthcare, staff scheduling directly affects an organization’s bottom line and the well-being of employees and patients. Manual or disjointed scheduling practices can lead to a variety of issues, including:

  • Excessive labor costs from over-staffing or reliance on contingent staff.
  • High overtime expenses.
  • Difficulty adhering to staff budgets and FTE targets.
  • Scheduling gaps and holes in coverage.
  • Staff dissatisfaction and burnout from unwanted shift assignments.
  • More instances of medical errors and poorer quality of care.

Conversely, optimized scheduling ensures the right clinicians are staffed at the right times to match fluctuating patient demand. It improves staff satisfaction and retention, reduces labor costs and supports higher quality patient care.

Shifts by Aya Healthcare nurse

Transitioning to an app-based, on-demand staffing platform

Many healthcare organizations still rely on outdated tools like Excel spreadsheets or whiteboards to create schedules. Managers spend an excessive amount of time struggling to balance staff preferences with patient care needs.

Implementing an app-based, on-demand staffing platform with predictive analytics is key to optimizing the workforce. An on-demand platform to manage open shifts needs provides the following advantages:

  • Integration with enterprise scheduling systems so managers only need to work in one system. 
  • Automated matching that balances staff skills, demand and preferences.
  • Enterprise-wide view of every clinical resource pool including core staff, float resources, PRN and travelers.
  • App-based self-scheduling for staff to indicate preferences.
  • Schedule balancing to ensure adequate coverage across all units.
  • FTE and budget tracking to control labor costs.
  • Reporting for fast insights into staffing metrics.

However, simply adopting scheduling technology is not enough. Organizations must also establish best practices for implementation and ongoing optimization.

Best practices for automated staffing

The following guidelines will help healthcare organizations get the most value from their workforce management systems and analytics capabilities.

Build Accurate Staffing Forecasts With Predictive Analytics

Accurate predicted demand forecasting is the foundation for optimized scheduling. Predictive analytics assesses hundreds of thousands of data points from beyond historical census data to project future staffing needs down to the role and specialty levels. This enables creating initial schedule templates that align closely with anticipated census and acuity levels.

Predictive analytics accounts for fluctuations in patient volumes based on:

  • Day of the week
  • Seasonality
  • Holidays
  • Local events
  • Past trends

With more accurate initial schedules, there is less need for last-minute adjustments or over-reliance on contingent labor to fill gaps.

Foster Ongoing Adoption Through Change Management

Any new technology faces adoption challenges. Managers can promote acceptance and utilization through:

  • Early involvement: Include stakeholders and end-users in product selection and planning.
  • Ongoing training: Train schedulers on the system and how to leverage key features. 
  • Responsive enhancements: Listen to user feedback and make improvements to the system.
  • Celebrate wins: Communicate success stories on improved metrics or staff satisfaction.

With upfront and ongoing change management, new technology becomes a valued asset rather than a source of frustration.

Continuously Optimize Scheduling Practices

Even after initial implementation, scheduling should be regularly analyzed and fine-tuned. As patient demand fluctuates seasonally, new service lines open and staffing needs change, scheduling practices need to evolve as well.

Ongoing optimization should include:

  • Evaluating metrics: Assess KPIs like labor costs, overtime, contract labor usage and staff satisfaction.
  • Updating labor models: Adjust specialty-specific labor models as service offerings expand or contract.
  • Responding to trends: Review analytics for emerging peaks, valleys or other patterns to fine-tune templates.
  • Incorporating feedback: Use staff input to improve schedules and address pain points.
  • Refining practices: Double down on practices that work well and change those that are problematic.

View scheduling as an ongoing journey rather than a one-time initiative. Leverage analytics and staff insights to drive continuous improvements.

The path toward workforce optimization

Automated scheduling paired with predictive analytics offers incredible potential to control labor costs while improving staff and patient satisfaction. However, technology alone is not the answer. Organizations must lay a strategic foundation using best practices around standardization, change management and continuous optimization.

With both advanced technology and a supportive administrative framework, healthcare organizations can turn their workforce into a true competitive edge. Staff will feel empowered and satisfied in their schedules, budgets will benefit from controlled labor spend and patients will experience superior access to quality care. The journey requires commitment but the rewards are transformative.

Written by Jackie Larson

Jackie Larson is a healthcare industry veteran and recognized thought leader. With more than 20 years in the industry, she has provided guidance and support to hundreds of hospitals on a range of issues including workforce optimization, productivity, labor pool and incentives, system integration, resource management and business analytics.

Jackie is a sought-after writer and speaker on healthcare staffing and workforce optimization topics. She has been featured at national conferences and is a regular contributor to Becker’s Hospital Review and the Huffington Post, among other publications.