Get out of crisis mode: How one busy Iowa hospital optimized staffing for patient volumes

Staffing can be a complicated, stressful and costly challenge for hospitals. Staffing issues not only affect patient care, but also the hospital's bottom line and staff satisfaction. Thus, it is important for hospital leaders to make optimizing staff utilization a priority.

In a webinar, hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Hospital IQ, Bryan Dickerson said predictive analytics can help hospitals mitigate staffing issues. Mr. Dickerson is senior director, product management-Workforce at Hospital IQ.

"[Predictive analytics gives hospitals] the gift of time for better decisions," he said. "Incorporating both the staffing and patient flow aspects of healthcare and giving some advance notice when there are both opportunities and problems ahead."

Increased time and foresight can help hospital leaders achieve financial improvements, operational efficiencies, organized patient throughput, staff satisfaction and improved patient experience, he added.

The key uses of a predictive analytics-based staffing solution
Hospital IQ provides an artificial intelligence-enabled operations management platform that drives action to sustain peak operational performance. The Workforce solution helps staffing managers align their staff to meet forecasted patient demand. The solution delivers trusted and precise recommendations that help managers make better staffing decisions for their nursing staff. Improved staff alignment improves quality of care, enhances staff satisfaction, reduces turnover, and decreases labor costs..

There are three major use cases for Hospital IQ's Workforce solution, according to Mr. Dickerson:

1. Daily staff planning. Hospital IQ can help staffing management teams "automate the chaos of today and look into the future," he said. By automating processes that require time and manual effort, the solution can give unit managers and staffing managers more time to assess and allocate resources and less time trying to understand each unit’s individual needs. It allows managers to plan for the day and look ahead into the week.

2. Weekly planning. By reducing the time required to allocate staff each day, staffing managers can use Hospital IQ to make proactive staff adjustments up to a week in advance to ensure there are no gaps in care, said Mr. Dickerson. Staffing managers can review future staffing needs and move staff from different days to ensure appropriate coverage.

3. Productivity management. Often in healthcare, productivity is assessed after the fact, according to Mr. Dickerson. In the best-case scenario, managers are waiting until tomorrow to assess the productivity levels of today, and in many cases, it takes weeks to assess productivity. Hospital IQ enables managers to understand current and forecasted staff productivity to proactively adjust their staff to maintain align to their targets.

How an Iowa hospital leveraged predictive analytics for staffing
MercyOne Des Moines (Iowa) Medical Center, a 656-bed hospital with 34,000-plus annual admissions, joined forces with Hospital IQ to improve its staffing functions in 2018.

Shawna Gunn, manager of operations at the hospital, listed a few challenges that MercyOne Des Moines had been facing during the webinar, including nursing shortages, high turnover and overuse of incentive and overtime pay. Staffing practices were also inconsistent across hospital units. For example, Ms. Gunn said, one floor of the hospital would have optimal staffing on one day, but on the same day another floor would be struggling.

Also, core staff that were frequently being floated to other units outside of their discipline, often to ensure coverage across all units, which was a dissatisfier to staff members, said Ms. Gunn.

The staffing department is responsible for nurse staffing across all acute care units at the main hospital as well as at MercyOne Des Moines’ West Lake campus. The department did not have the tools and resources to view staffing needs and availability across both campuses, especially when staffing needs changed quickly.

"We felt like we were constantly just working in crisis mode with staffing," Ms. Gunn said. "Each call [to the staffing department] felt like you were just peddling backwards, time and time again, to try and then [reassess] what numbers were on each unit. And figure out what resources were there. We were truly in crisis mode 24/7."

So MercyOne Des Moines deployed Hospital IQ's Workforce solution to modernize its staffing processes. It deployed the solution across 290 medical-surgical and telemetry beds.

The solution is primarily used by the unit secretaries who work at the direction of charge nurses. The unit secretaries gather information about their unit's staffing needs and share that with the staffing department. This frees up unit leaders and charge nurses to focus on other patient care and administrative tasks.

The solution has also enabled staffing coordinators to round more quickly and gather information on staffing levels. They are still physically rounding, said Ms. Gunn, but it takes them much less time to gather the staffing needs of each unit so nurses can quickly be allocated where they will be most needed early on their shifts.

Overall, the staffing department has been able to allocate staff to units up to a week in advance, which has improved staff satisfaction. Staff know which units they will be assigned to in advance and they are being moved less frequently from unit to unit, said Ms. Gunn.

Finally, the staffing department can proactively plan for low-and high-census days. Low census days refers to when the patient population is lower than normal and there are more empty beds in the nursing units, and high-census days are when the patient population is too high. Hospital IQ helps the staffing office plan for high-census days and shift staffing staff from low census days, which helps prevent staff burnout as well as lower the amount spent on premium pay.

Use of Hospital IQ has allowed the staffing department and unit leaders to save 70-plus hours per week in the time they spent allocating staff. It has also led to a more than 70 percent reduction in incentive pay and 20 percent-plus decrease in overtime hours.

It's not just about having analytics for analytics sake, Mr. Dickerson said. It's about putting the right information in hands of the right people at the right time, making it easier for them to do the right thing.

Learn more about Hospital IQ here and view the webinar here.

More articles on workforce:
Atrium Health bumps pay of more than 10,000 hourly employees
What millennial, Gen Z nurses look for when sizing up a jobs
Nurse practitioner workforce, earnings surged 2010-2017, Census survey finds




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