3 key steps to healthcare workforce planning

Workforce planning for healthcare systems, hospitals and clinics is a conundrum.

It is the responsibility of a healthcare professional, usually a clinical manager within each unit, who often has more pressing patient care activities to accomplish. Each day, the manager has to ask the question, "Do I place my efforts on staff planning, or do I focus my limited time on my patients?"

As you can imagine, this approach can relegate staff planning to rough estimates, repeating past practices and sometimes even guesswork. Ironically, however, by not making staff planning a priority, these same clinical managers may wind up spending much of their time filling gaps in scheduling and staffing instead of on patient care issues and staff mentoring.

In other industries, algorithm-based resource analytics, business intelligence, predictive modeling and standardized best practices have been in use to forecast service demand and resource supply needs. Calls centers have used these tools and approaches for years. These practices are now available in healthcare. Big data gathered from business intelligence and other real-time information sources can now be joined with algorithm-based predictive modeling and automation for a critical area of healthcare – workforce planning.

The expertise and technology exists to determine future healthcare workforce needs and to provide recommendations and insight on the best ways to fill those needs. And the outcomes realized from this breakthrough can include overall savings in labor spending, improved quality of care, better alignment of staffing with patient need, and improved staff morale.

Key steps to improving healthcare workforce planning are:

- Forecast Supply and Demand: For a true enterprise view, advanced workforce planning for healthcare begins with gathering data for a unit, facility and enterprise (in that order). Information can include payroll, patient volumes, employee demographics, workload, leaves of absence and staffing targets along with intelligence such as new construction projects and new units, plus seasonal illness data and patient census and demographics. All of this, and more, comprises the big data of the healthcare workforce, which is then run through a series of algorithms to produce predictive models for patient care demand and the workforce supply that will be needed. Using forecasting methods developed for healthcare providers by Avantas, an AMN company, predictive analytics can forecast patient volume 120 days in advance, enabling providers to accurately forecast future staffing needs. In conjunction with predictive analytics, standardized best practices, scheduling software, automated management systems and expert consulting can optimize existing core staff while efficiently utilizing contingency staffing.

- Optimize Core Staff: Accurate demand forecasts are then used to help determine the right number of core staff needed on a unit-by-unit basis. This process ensures that core staff work to their full FTE commitments. Policies for the workforce (i.e., shift start times, open shift procedures, etc.) are standardized throughout the healthcare enterprise, which establishes a consistent framework that is predictable. Healthcare scheduling software that automates planning, scheduling, staffing, deployment and reporting processes helps ensure efficient and effective use of core staff to provide quality patient care while containing costs. By creating a workforce plan utilizing best practice labor management strategies and advanced forecasting methods, a healthcare organization can develop an accurate plan of its care staffing structure and needs, resulting in clinical, operational and financial improvements.

- Utilize Contingency Staff: Once you know your core staff needs and can fill them, planning and supplying contingency staffing – including float pool resources – becomes substantially easier. All hours, other than those worked by core staff within their FTE, can be filled by various contingency workers. Open shifts can be the result of paid time off, leaves of absence, seasonal openings, spikes in patient census and/or acuity, and continuing education for core staff. Through accurate core staff workforce planning, a healthcare organization can accurately determine the necessary structure and size of its contingent workforce. Then, the contingent workforce can be effectively filled and managed with the help of healthcare staffing and workforce solutions experts.

Accurately planning workforce needs in the future has proven to save healthcare organizations between 4% and 7% of their total labor spend. But more importantly, it ensures that these same organizations provide the staffing necessary for quality patient care. In addition, when forced overtime, floating and cancellations are rare, and scheduling a family vacation six months in advance becomes simple and straightforward, unit morale can perceptibly brighten. Workforce planning provides staffing strategies based on accurate needs forecasting, instead of inefficient past practices and guesswork.

Dan White brings more than 25 years of professional experience in recruitment, product marketing and management, software development, executive leadership and venture capital. As President of Strategic Workforce Solutions, he is responsible for business development for the suite of AMN Healthcare workforce solutions, including the industry-leading Managed Services Programs (MSP), Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO), Strategic Accounts and Client Marketing teams. As an industry pioneer and veteran, he is responsible for leading AMN top-ranked Managed Services Provider (MSP) and Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) businesses, while reshaping the way AMN delivers its workforce solutions to its diverse client base.

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