The New Health IT Heals Chronic (and Costly) Scheduling and Staffing Challenges

New Health ITUntil very recently, the term “health information technology” has meant electronic medical records and mobile diagnostic devices that are heralded for bringing healthcare into the digital age. But a newer form of health IT launched in recent years which can revolutionize the staffing, scheduling and management of the healthcare workforce.

The new health IT is focused on data, analytics and best practices that improve patient outcomes, while driving to a value-based model. A great example of this is technology that automates recruitment, credentialing, needs matching, invoicing and reporting for all contingent staff. Today, leading health systems utilize big data and algorithm-based predictive analytics to accurately forecast future clinical and non-clinical labor needs and then institute best practices to fill and manage workforce supply and demand.

Healthcare is people-intensive; the workforce is far and away the largest cost and most important resource. Healthcare professionals and the people who support them are the most important factor in patient outcomes and satisfaction, and are responsible for implementing the most important initiatives of the healthcare reform era – business outcomes that match the patient outcomes.

Other industries are way ahead of healthcare in their efforts to automate resource management and scientifically forecast the supply and demand of those resources. But in the healthcare industry, these important functions have been largely manual, in many cases paper and pencil or Excel spreadsheets. Scheduling, staffing and routine management tasks are conducted by clinical managers, taking up much of their time and detracting from patient care, while the forecasting of future workforce needs has been largely guesswork based on past practices.

The result has been widespread scheduling and staffing problems that can impact quality of care, increase costs and undermine staff morale. Many current scheduling and staffing systems can result in unpredictable over- or under-staffing, excessive floating or shift cancellations, ad-hoc scheduling, nonproductive time, and inaccurate staffing and scheduling for patient volume and acuity. All these types of problems can have significant impact on labor spending, which accounts for more than half of the budget for nearly every healthcare facility.

Now, the healthcare industry is joining the rest of our Information Age economy, and potentially surpassing it. Technology is available to accurately forecast future staffing and scheduling needs and engage in advanced practices to optimize current staff and fill gaps where needed.

Avantas is an AMN company that provides labor management technology, services and strategies for the healthcare industry. Its advanced workforce planning for healthcare begins with gathering data for a unit, facility, and enterprise. Information can include payroll, patient volumes, employee demographics, workload, leaves of absence and staffing targets along with real-time data feeds and business intelligence such as new construction projects and new units, plus seasonal illness data and patient census and demographics. Patient volume and acuity also are important metrics.

All of this, and more, comprises the “big data” of healthcare workforce forecasting. The data is then run through a series of algorithms to produce predictive models for patient care demand and the workforce supply that will be needed. Avantas 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 help optimize core staff and efficiently utilize contingency staff.

Vendor management systems, or VMS, are another type of health IT now available to automate the management of the contingent workforce of a healthcare facility or entire system. VMS can rectify inefficient manual scheduling and staffing procedures that erode productive time that could be spent on patient care. VMS automates the procurement of temporary, flexible and contract staff and manages all related work such as time-card approval, invoicing, compliance and reporting. Large healthcare facilities may deal with dozens of contingent workforce vendors, each with its own billing, contracts, quality standards and other factors. Handling each vendor separately is an inefficient practice that cries out for automation. A VMS can consolidate all of those separate functions into a single point of contact.

VMS can be very flexible and scalable, offered either Software-as-a-Service or on-premise software, and provide either certain functions or the entire process of working with vendors. Two of the leading VMS providers are AMN companies, ShiftWise and Medefis.

Labor management technology and vendor management systems are in consonance with other forms of health information technology in that they provide disruptive technological solutions for challenges that impact the administration of patient care. Healthcare professionals, and nursing in particular, have greater influence on patient outcomes and satisfaction than any other sector of the healthcare industry. Technology that advances the management of healthcare professionals represents a breakthrough in healthcare performance.