The COVID-19 pandemic caused health systems across the country to rely on crisis-staffing measures to combat staff shortages in healthcare. Nursing leaders and staffing coordinators used new strategies to align staffing to patient needs based on the staffing resources available. While not optimal as a long-term solutions, many of the lessons learned during the pandemic from staffing crisis andCNA shortages can be operationalized to help health systems develop a more strategic approach to chronic understaffing challenges. Healthcare Technologies like Hospital IQ aim to answer the question of how to solve understaffing in Hospitals with automation.

So where should you begin if you’re considering leveraging automation to solve your staff shortages? The process begins by evaluating your organization’s staffing approach to identify unmet needs? How does your health system respond to understaffing issues? Is there a frantic scramble in the hours and minutes just before the shift starts, trying to determine where staff are needed and where additional resources can be found? Are staff frequently being shifted and reallocated during the shift? Is staffing done in silos, with each unit fending for itself?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it’s time to look at how technology can enhance your organization’s response to short-staffing issues.

eBook: Moving from Reactive to Proactive: Seven Strategies for Mitigating Understaffing

I’ve worked with hundreds of health systems to improve their staffing and scheduling strategies. Many of them started with conventional processes and ineffective staffing technology that caused them to be in a continual state of chaos and crisis as they tried to navigate understaffing challenges. They had done staffing the same way for many years, and they were constantly finding themselves in a reactive mode.

There is a better way. As we work with our clients to explore the potential of powerful new staffing methodologies, they recognize how predictive staffing can have a positive impact on financial metrics, patient care, and staff engagement. By leveraging technology to streamline workflows and using analytics to make better staffing decisions, those health systems have moved from being reactive to proactive.

Recently, we met with staffing leaders from health systems across the country to learn how they’re using new staffing methodologies and technology to apply the lessons learned during COVID-19 to mitigate any ongoing understaffing issues. Your health system can learn from their successes.

Here are five ways industry leaders are using staffing technology to overcome understaffing issues.

1. Use an accurate census forecast to make staffing adjustments up to seven days in advance.

Without a census forecast, staffing coordinators and unit leaders are making their best guess based on historical averages. Getting staff balanced and allocated to the right unit each day becomes a chaotic last-minute scramble, which adversely impacts patient care and staff satisfaction.

During a time when understaffing is especially concerning for hospitals across the country, health systems are turning to predictive analytics, which use a hospital’s own data along with external sources to accurately predict patient census up to seven days in advance. Data is aggregated across applicable clinical, operational, and workforce management systems and presented to both nursing leaders and staffing coordinators in a way that’s actionable. As a result, staffing coordinators and unit managers can align staffing with patient care needs.

The Director of Patient Flow at a large health system in the Midwest explains, “We evaluated our conventional staffing approaches and decided we needed to turn to a more forward-thinking approach to address understaffing. Utilizing a census forecast allows us to be more proactive with our staffing and really align resources while accounting for admits, discharges and transfers. We’ve really leaned into the data and let the forecasted census be our guide. At any given time, we can focus the resources where they are needed and ensure that the bedside staff can meet the care demands of each individual unit. We don’t get into that crisis mode because we can see what’s coming and can align resources quickly.”

2. Provide enterprise-wide visibility to help find and deploy clinical and non-clinical support staff effectively.

When unit leaders and the staffing coordinators have a complete picture of enterprise-wide staffing needs, they can make informed decisions that benefit the entire health system. That fosters a culture of collaboration as the team learns to trust the data and recognizes that they’ll be able to find staffing resources when they need them the most.

We’ve seen staffing leaders break down staffing silos and take an enterprise approach to balance nursing resources. The Senior Staffing Coordinator at a large health system in Florida shares, “On any given day, some units are staffed better than others; some of them are overstaffed, some are understaffed. We use this system to balance that by taking staff from an overstaffed unit, moving one or two nurses over to a unit that’s down by maybe two or three. We’re trying to balance the board as evenly as we can.”

During times of understaffing, many health systems have also used clinical and non-clinical resources to help lighten the load on acute care nurses. When nursing leaders and staffing coordinators have full visibility to the roster of all available resources, such as pharmacists, orientees, support staff, and nurses from other units or facilities, they can incorporate them into their daily staffing plan and automatically notify them of where, when, and for how long they are being deployed.

For example, at a large health system in Texas, the staffing team is working with clinical educators to implement training programs that will add support resources at the bedside. The Senior Functional Systems Administrator explains, “We are very fortunate because we don’t just have hospitals within our health system; we also have a large medical group practice. We’ve partnered with our clinical educators to conduct some classes for our medical assistants and LPNs who work in the medical group offices and would like to pick up extra hours on the evenings and weekends to help support our inpatient hospital staffing.”

3. Leverage premium labor more strategically.

When your health system is dealing with understaffing, leaning on agency staff or premium labor for short periods of time can be very effective mitigation strategies. With predictive staffing technology in place, your nursing leaders and staffing coordinators can optimize existing staff before turning to premium labor to fill staffing gaps.

Predictive analytics also enable health systems to use a tiered approach to offering incentive pay by providing valuable insights about when it’s necessary to offer higher levels of incentive pay to staff critical shifts.

The Market Director of Nursing at a large health system in the Midwest explains how they use forecasted patient census on each unit to determine thresholds that trigger different levels of incentive pay to alleviate understaffing. She says, “Our predictive staffing system provides insight for the upcoming week that shows to what percent each shift is currently staffed based on the current schedule and the predicted census. We use this information and the associated predictions as thresholds for the amount of incentive that can be offered to shift staff around. We may be able to get by at 90% staffed, but at 70%, we’re really struggling. That’s when we need to use higher incentive pay to fill those critical open shifts.”

4. Create and use alternate staffing plans to mitigate short-staffing

When faced with understaffing challenges, health systems can benefit from having the flexibility to deploy different staffing strategies based on the severity of the understaffing and which clinical and non-clinical support staff are available to help stretch the capacity of the acute care nurses.

By developing multiple staffing plans that address different scenarios, health systems can quickly adapt to current and projected situations when understaffing is an acute issue. The Director of Nursing Operations at a large health system in the Midwest explains how they’re using alternate staffing grids to address understaffing. She says, “We use our alternate staffing grids to help us deal with patient surges. Based on defined trigger points, we can make staffing adjustments that help us stretch our nurses’ capacity safely. If we have to increase the number of patients assigned to the nurses in a unit, we know how many additional support staff we need based on each of the trigger points we’ve established. This enables us to take action quickly to make sure our nurses are supported. We now have that flexibility in our acute, progressive and critical care units.”

5. Streamline workflows to give nurse managers and the staffing office more time to be strategic.

Staffing technology can eliminate time-consuming manual workflows. With less time spent on reactive chaos management, nursing leaders have more time to spend with their patients and staff. And, the staffing coordinators can be more strategic and proactive, addressing understaffing days in advance and focusing on operational improvements.

The investment in predictive staffing technology is giving leaders and staffing coordinators the invaluable gift of time at a large health system in the Midwest. The Director of Patient Flow shares, “We implemented the Hospital IQ workforce management system in our centralized staffing office. The biggest return on investment from this innovative program is the amount of time that has been given back to the leaders and the staffing office. They were spending so much time chasing numbers and making phone calls. And, we were pulling charge nurses from the bedside just to verify that the staff we saw in our scheduler system was really what they had on the floor. We have much more efficient communication now and a streamlined daily process that took out a lot of the physical rounding and rounding via phone. We can ensure the appropriate patient care coverage is there without spending the immense amount of time that we used to. I can’t speak enough about the time that was returned to our nursing leaders, our bedside staff, and our staffing coordinators.”

Staffing Technology as a Catalyst for Change

Even beyond the staffing issues caused by the pandemic, understaffing is a widespread challenge that is projected to get worse. Many health systems have struggled to implement effective processes and technology to overcome this issue, and they’re dealing with short-staffing reactively. Now is the time for your health system to consider the benefits of a staffing solution that provides your team with the time and insight to determine the best strategy for each situation proactively. Whether your health system is replacing manual processes with automation or working to implement staffing practices that contribute to reaching your corporate goals, predictive staffing technology can be the catalyst for change. By addressing understaffing strategically and proactively, your organization can improve financial performance and patient care delivery, while also creating a work environment that boosts staff satisfaction.


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