For Nurses, Compassionate Scheduling through Predictive Analytics

Predictive AnalyticsJob satisfaction in nursing can be aggravated by the daily challenges of staffing and scheduling at many healthcare facilities. Most nurses can tell doleful stories about mandatory floating to unfamiliar units, assignment of non-nursing tasks, last-minute shift cancellations, unwanted overtime and the frustration of trying to schedule a family vacation a few months into the future.

A department’s current schedule is often a carbon copy of the previous schedule. A manager will try to take into account staff requests, but the outcomes are typically unsuccessful, often because the schedules very rarely take into account the most important things – insight into future patient volume and acuity and accurate analysis of future staff supply. The result can be a serious imposition on work/life balance for nurses, who are the foundation of the healthcare industry.

Solutions for scheduling woes

Many people in healthcare believe that scheduling and staffing hardships are just part of being a nurse. Yet, solutions exist to relieve the stress of poor scheduling and staffing from the already stressful career of nursing. But these solutions are not yet widely used to improve the work lives of most nurses.

Avantas, an AMN Healthcare company, has pioneered workforce strategies and forecasting tools for healthcare that provide organizations with a proven way to improve staffing outcomes and increase staff satisfaction. The forecasting component utilizes various time series models, vector models, structural models, classification and regression trees that incorporate multiple variables for accurate prediction of nurse staffing needs. Exploratory models are validated before and after deployment, with the outcome being an accurate staffing need forecast 120 days in advance of the shift.

This advanced knowledge of workforce needs can help make the scheduling and staffing of nursing workforces more predictable, consistent and uniform. Ask any nurse whether she or he would appreciate this change, and the answer would be an emphatic “yes!”

“By nature, nursing is a stressful occupation, but that stress is made worse by many staffing and scheduling practices that are common in our industry,” said Marcia Faller, RN, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer at AMN Healthcare. “Fortunately, advanced methods are now available to change staffing and scheduling practices so that they are more compassionate to nurses and easier on their personal lives.”

Quality and cost containment

Of course, accurate forecasting of staffing needs benefits the healthcare enterprise, too. Labor accounts for more than 50% percent of operating revenue for hospitals and other healthcare facilities. As a result, there is a critical need to understand demand patterns so managers can optimize staff to better manage costs and deliver quality care.

In addition to advanced patient volume and staff needs forecasting, Avantas also delivers metrics-based analysis of staffing types and sources, resulting in the right numbers and types of staff and a proper balance of core staff and contingency staff to adjust to patient volume. The development of right-sized staffing is achieved through analysis of key optimization statistics, including workload, leaves of absence, FTE designations and incidental worked time, as well as demographic and generational trends.

This process establishes the optimal number of core staff FTEs on a unit-to-unit and department-by-department level and matches it to future patient volumes. This analysis also pinpoints the amount of contingency nursing that will be needed to avoid excessive and unnecessary overtime or cancelling for core staff.

The forecast range of 120 days provided by Avantas is unprecedented in healthcare, as well as its application beyond inpatient nursing to outpatient areas, such as medical groups. The result is increased quality, cost savings, greater continuity and increased staff flexibility and improvements in staff satisfaction. As the forecast is updated weekly, healthcare providers can more accurately determine the right number of staff with the right skill set that they will need.

“As demand for nurses increases, healthcare facilities that can offer nurses this more logical and precise method of staffing and scheduling will probably be in greater favor,” Faller said. “All nurses I know would much rather work at a place where their schedules are predictable.”