Improving operational and patient outcomes through people analytics

The healthcare workforce is poised to undergo significant change during the next decade. Aging populations and the introduction of new technologies necessitate that healthcare organizations cultivate an environment in which employees are engaged, productive and feel empowered to take the necessary steps to deliver high-quality care.

To create such an environment, some experts suggest healthcare providers incorporate workforce management strategies and people analytics to improve operational and patient care outcomes. Quantifying staff (or workforce) engagement through data analytics provides leaders with the data necessary to create effective strategies and solutions to elicit change.

During a Dec. 7 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Kronos, Chip Newton, managing director of workforce strategy and insights and healthcare sector leader at Deloitte Consulting, discussed trends in workforce composition and talent and how those factors may affect healthcare providers' operational and patient care outcomes.

Workforce challenges and drivers

Mr. Newton said the healthcare workforce is fueled by three main drivers: demographic upheaval, an increasing reliance on digital technology and a new "social contract" between employers and employees.

According to Mr. Newton, the workforce will become increasingly younger as older generations begin to retire. Roughly 77 million millennials make up more than half of the U.S. workforce. According to a 2015 report by Medical Economics citing data from the American Medical Association, roughly 15 percent of physicians nationwide were under the age of 35. Amid the ongoing demographic shift, the healthcare workplace is increasingly shaped by the distinct values of this younger generation.

"Millennial employees want purpose; they want to show that they're giving back and contributing to the community and to society," Mr. Newton said, adding millennials also anticipate working for multiple employers throughout their careers to quickly move up the corporate ladder. The change in employee mindset lends credence to the notion employers should strive harder to create an atmosphere prioritizing employee retention and happiness, he continued.

Technology, too, will play a much larger role in the workforce, specifically with regard to healthcare employment models. Mr. Newton cited a survey administered by Deloitte that found 42 percent of respondents said their organization expects to increase its use of contingent workers, or freelancers, in the next three to five years. The shift, Mr. Newton said, results from changes in the types of technology that have become increasingly accessible to employers. For example, artificial intelligence, robotics and cognitive technologies help to automate certain routine tasks and increase opportunities for more flexible work models.

To account for these drivers, Mr. Newton said employers must create policies "that really support a dynamic workforce ... [and] constantly upskill and reskill [employees] so that they can continue to be innovative." Such policies may be as simple as granting employees access to tools that will help them build their skill sets so that they can become a stronger asset to the business, he noted.

Healthcare providers' specific challenges with changing workforce

Healthcare providers are challenged to manage increasingly diverse workforces in coming years. However, he noted providers have the added difficulty of "attempting to improve their workforce management capabilities in an increasingly complex operating and regulatory environment." While doing so may prove difficult, healthcare providers that successfully implement workforce management systems often report better patient outcomes and more efficient operations.

Mr. Newton pointed to a provider he worked with that experienced a drop in their brand popularity in a specific metropolitan area, but did not understand why patients were less inclined to go to seek them out for care. Using people analytics, or a predictive analytics platform developed and applied specifically to human resources, Mr. Newton and his team discovered the provider relied on a decentralized staffing model that failed to account for employees' input when scheduling shifts, often times overscheduling certain employees while failing to schedule others. The provider's staffing model also did not take advantage of clinicians who lived and worked in the same metropolitan area and who were credentialed and available to work some of those shifts.

"Outside of the operational nightmare that [staffing model] caused, there was a specific drop in [the provider's] brand in some of the markets that they served, meaning a lot of nurses would say, 'I don't want to work there because I don't feel like I have the transparency into my schedule, I feel like it's complicated to get staffed … properly on the shift that I want and many times the shift isn’t convenient for me,'" Mr. Newton said.

By revamping its workforce management system using people analytics, the provider was able to account for its employees' needs and desires when creating employee schedules, thereby creating an environment in which those employees felt empowered and more driven to provide high-quality care, Mr. Newton said.

In order to thrive amid measurable changes in the workforce, Mr. Newton said providers must recognize the importance of and elevate the employee experience, placing it on par with that of the institution's patient experience strategy. Employers who encourage their workers to take hold of their careers, and motivate them to gain knowledge and insight by experiencing various roles within the organization and expanding their skill sets, will undoubtedly create successful, motivated providers who prioritize patient care.

"The ability to take market advantage of data and contextualize the workforce of the future will be the provider leaders of tomorrow," he said.

To view the webinar, click here. To view the webinar presentation slides, click here.

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