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How Technology is Driving the Next Phase of Healthcare Staffing

By Susan Salka, CEO, AMN Healthcare

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Susan Salka, CEO, AMN Healthcare

Growing shortages of healthcare workers, prompted by rising patient demand and other factors, have made efficient workforce management one of the most important issues facing the healthcare industry today.

The drivers of workforce demand – an aging U.S. populace requiring more healthcare services, the aging of healthcare professionals nearing retirement, and an improving economy– are being felt by healthcare organizations struggling with a growing gap of unfilled job openings. Federal statistics illustrate the extent of the problem. In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the gap between healthcare job openings and job hires running at 30 percent. By 2016, that had risen to 50 percent. Over the last year, and still today, the unfilled healthcare jobs gap is higher than ever before, according to BLS data.

“In addition to cost savings, healthcare organizations employing Predictive Analytics are enjoying increased staff satisfaction scores and improved nurse retention”

Healthcare labor shortages aren’t expected to abate anytime soon, regardless of the outcome of political changes to healthcare policy, because the forces driving the shortages transcend policy changes. The result of this quandary – limited worker supply amid escalating demand – is that healthcare providers need to optimize the workforce they already have.

Fortunately, Predictive Analytics – technology-enabled forecasting already successfully used in many industries – has arrived in healthcare. Early adopters are seeing lower costs, higher staff morale and improved patient care, achieved through filling the gaps in nurse staffing.

How Predictive Analytics Transforms Healthcare Staffing

One of the greatest challenges for healthcare leaders is ensuring that hospitals and other healthcare providers have the right healthcare professionals in the right places at the right times. This is complicated by fluctuating patient volume and acuity– which in many healthcare organizations leaves managers employing guesswork in an attempt to schedule their staff.

This can lead to understaffed shifts, floating, unplanned overtime and incentive pay, last-minute schedule changes, and other issues that can stress staff, raise costs and impair patient care quality. But Predictive Analytics can make nurse scheduling and staffing a much more effective and efficient process.

A technology enabled solution, Predictive Analytics uses sophisti­cated computational techniques in­cluding data mining, algorithms and computer modeling to analyze past data and make predictions about future patient volume and staffing needs. Such forecasting technology is already successfully used in other industries, such as manufacturing, transportation and financial services, to save time and money through better resource management.

In healthcare, early adopters are finding that it enables accurate forecasting of patient demand and staffing needs months in advance of the shift. When Predictive Analytics are complemented by advanced labor management techniques, the results are major benefits for healthcare staff, patients and the bottom line.

Efficiency from Predictive Ana­lytics can be significant, considering that workforce staffing represents the single largest expense for health­care organizations, accounting for about 50 percent-60 percent of bud­getary expenditures, according to Fitch Ratings.

In addition to cost savings, healthcare organizations employing Predictive Analytics are enjoying increased staff satisfaction scores and improved nurse retention – key assets as providers struggle to find and keep qualified nurses. Greater staff satisfaction also has been shown to correlate with improved patient satisfaction, a constant concern among healthcare providers.

According to Avantas, an AMN Healthcare company that develops and provides Predictive Analytics, healthcare organizations that have implemented Predictive Analytics and advanced labor management have realized excellent results, including:

• Overall nurse labor spending reductions of 4 percent to 7 percent.

• 97 percent accuracy in predicting staffing needs 30 days in advance of the shift.

• 75 percent of open shift hours filled more than two weeks ahead of the shift.

• 50 percent to 75 percent reductions in open shift and bonus shift incentives.

• Increased from 18th to the 81st percentile in RN staffing satisfaction scoring.

Why is Predictive Analytics Just Gaining Traction in Healthcare?

Despite such impressive numbers, the use of Predictive Analytics in healthcare scheduling and staffing is only now gaining traction.

Part of the slow uptake appears to be a lack of awareness among healthcare leaders and frontline managers, whose scheduling and staffing responsibilities in­volve daily struggles to cover nursing shifts amid uncertain patient demand.

A recent survey, Predic­tive Analytics in Health­care: Optimizing Nurse Staffing in an Era of Workforce Shortag­es, by AMN Healthcare and Avantas, found that 80 percent of nurse manag­ers are unaware of available technolo­gy that can accurately forecast patient demand and staffing needs. However, nearly 90 percent said that such tech­nology would be helpful in the daily scheduling and staffing of nurses.

When asked how they currently handle staff scheduling, responses from nurse managers revealed widespread use of outmoded scheduling tools: 24 percent use paper-based scheduling and staffing tools, 19 percent use simple digital spreadsheets, and 23 percent don’t use any scheduling tools at all.

Technology Offers a New Way Forward

Many healthcare leaders recognize that current approaches to nurse scheduling and staffing are deficient in many ways, but they aren’t familiar with this new technological alternative. The first step is recognizing that the technology to accurately predict future demand and staffing need is available to healthcare organizations today, and take the action to learn more about it.

Predictive Analytics can transform scheduling and staffing from guess­work to science — and staff, patients and healthcare organizations reap the rewards. 

AMN Healthcare specializes in healthcare workforce solutions and staffing services to healthcare facilities. Headquartered in San Diego, USA, the company provides quality clinicians and physicians to a wide range of acute-care hospitals, government facilities, community health centers and clinics across America.