Using analytics to identify overlooked workforce optimization opportunities

Swimming in a sea of unpredictability, leadership in provider organizations eagerly welcomes any lifeline that offers cost efficiency and an improved patient experience.

Adding to their growing list of priorities, healthcare leaders are under pressure to find viable ways to control costs while delivering high-quality patient care during an unprecedented shortage of healthcare professionals. It’s a tall order that may often feel insurmountable.

Having a sustainable workforce strategy is the first step to combat uncertainty. As labor costs account for over half of a health system’s budget, cost-savings initiatives are often waiting to be uncovered.

While easily overlooked, paying close attention to staffing and scheduling practices can reveal areas of opportunity to decrease labor costs and improve resource coordination in provider organizations. Not scheduling staff to patient demand, misalignment of resources, and policy inconsistency are practices that have costly consequences for an organization but are completely controllable.

Scheduling staff can be a complicated process for health systems. With staffing being driven by patient volume, the lack of accurate forecasting results in managers and directors being left to their own devices to predict staffing needs. This results in frequent last-minute changes to the schedule including staff cancellations, floating, or pushing staff into overtime, if not enough resources were scheduled. These scenarios lead to unhappy staff and increased labor costs for the organization – making a dent in their bottom line and retention rate.

Automating the scheduling process and utilizing technology enhanced with predictive analytics presents managers with a clearer view of staffing needs well in advance. Predictive modeling that analyzes historical census data and staff behavior patterns is able to accurately forecast staffing needs up to 120 days in advance of the shift. This advanced data technology also offers reporting capabilities to effectively monitor and drive productivity.

How a few minutes add up to thousands of dollars
Effectively scheduling staff is only one piece of the puzzle. Drilling down into workforce data uncovers hidden areas of opportunity. One such area that typically offers a significant savings opportunity is incidental worked time (IWT). This refers to the time a staff member is on the clock before or after the start or end of their original shift or during a scheduled meal break.

Incidental worked time occurs as a result of unplanned circumstances, and generally there is a clinical justification for 40 percent of incidental worked time. However, the remaining 60 percent represents a tremendous savings opportunity. Avantas research has projected that the average unit has an annual savings opportunity of $28,000 per year tied to IWT. For a 300-bed hospital with 20 nursing units, this would mean a $560,000 savings.

Because there are legitimate and unpreventable circumstances that can lead to incidental worked time, such as providing safe patient care, most organizations have a reasonable tolerance level. But recurring incidents by repeat offenders are entirely avoidable and should be addressed by leadership. Early clock-ins and late out-punches may seem harmless, but when done routinely aggregates to a tremendous expense for provider organizations.

Examining workflow processes to ensure smooth transitions from one shift to another is one effective method for eliminating preventable IWT. Additionally, identifying teams achieving consistently low IWT may model best practice workflow and process improvement opportunities for similarly-situated departments.

Routinely monitoring workforce metrics such as IWT allows managers to effectively track their unit’s progress toward organizational goals. Holding staff accountable and establishing best practices sets departments on the path to reducing occurrences of staff being on the clock more than clinically necessary – improving productivity and reducing excessive labor costs.

In an industry that is ever-changing, provider organizations must be forward-thinking in their workforce management strategies and leave no stone unturned. Being innovative and seeking all avenues toward workforce optimization clears the path to continued growth and ensures the right staff are in the right place at the right time to deliver excellent patient care.

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