It goes without saying that in healthcare the priority is on providing the highest quality patient care. Caregivers will stop at nothing to make sure they are achieving that goal; from working 12-hour shifts six days in a row to putting their own health and well-being at risk, healthcare workers continue to deserve heroes’ recognition for their devotion to patient care.
Over the past decade, resources have become more strained and healthcare organizations have been asked to work leaner and more efficiently. Staff productivity and efficiency have become a priority focus. Healthcare organizations feel this strain and are often faced with the challenge of balancing costs, patient care outcomes, and staff productivity. Rightly so, caregivers primary focus will always be their patients, but they are faced with staff shortages and budget reductions that can make achieving that goal more challenging.
As I have worked with healthcare organizations across the country, I have witnessed some uncomfortable exchanges between finance teams and nursing teams trying to determine how to maintain the highest standard of care with fewer resources. The finance teams must focus on achieving an organization’s financial goals while nursing is focused on ensuring their high standard for patient care is maintained. These are often perceived as opposing forces.
Focusing on staff productivity and efficiency can be seen as a barrier to achieving quality patient care. But this does not have to be the case. Increased attention to staff productivity and efficiency can be a way to provide even better patient care.
During my ten years in healthcare, one of my initiatives was to collaboratively develop relationships with nursing and finance and to promote a mutual understanding that improving staff productivity and efficiency does not necessarily equate to increased strain on the workforce and reduced patient care quality. In fact, it can do the opposite and allow healthcare organizations to improve patient care while relieving strain on caregivers by ensuring they are not overworked and have all necessary resources at their disposal. The key is to ensure that all areas of an organization and all initiatives including improving efficiency and staff productivity have an ultimate focus on the patient.
In this blog series, I will discuss several ways healthcare organizations can operate more efficiently with higher staff productivity while maintaining and even improving their standard of care. In the future posts, I will explore the following concepts:
Eliminating wasteful spending
A 2019 study indicates that 25 percent of health care spending is considered wasteful which includes excess administrative costs and inefficiently delivered services. Identifying and correcting these inefficiencies can be opportunities to redirect resources to patient care. Unnecessary spending on administrative costs to investigate and find these inefficiencies can compound the problem. That is why it is more important than ever that healthcare organizations utilize technology that highlights workflow inefficiencies in real-time and brings actionable data to the forefront.
Labor productivity is about more than just ensuring that departments are within an acceptable staff utilization percentage. It is equally important to ensure they are doing so equitably. A department can be at perfect 100% productivity for a month while each day’s productivity metric fluctuates enormously. During my time working for a healthcare organization, I saw several departments achieve the goal of 95-105% monthly utilization with individual days fluctuating between 60% and 125%. This variability can have negative consequences for patient care and staff satisfaction even though they have technically met their monthly goals.
This concept can also extend to each individual caregiver. A department can be at 100% productivity every day and have some caregivers that are overworked, and others that are underworked. It is important to ensure that workload is evenly distributed among caregivers. Correcting these inefficiencies can improve staff satisfaction and their ability to provide quality patient care, while also improving financial metrics.
Ensuring equitable productivity involves monitoring productivity monthly, weekly, daily, by shift, and by individual caregiver to make appropriate changes to staffing and workload assignments. It also involves ensuring staff is as flexible as possible. Care providers should have the flexibility to work in any department their skills are appropriate for and not be limited to one or two departments. Many can be cross-trained for different departments, specialties and for different skills. This allows them to work where patients need them most which reduces inefficiencies that can affect financial metrics and patient care.
Central staffing is essential to implementing these concepts. I have worked with organizations that have cancelled staff on the same shift they used overtime. This is unfortunately an all-too-common occurrence that leads to burnout and sometimes compromised patient care. If they had flexible staff, central staffing, and tools at their disposal to ensure staff are distributed appropriately, they likely could have avoided these inefficiencies.
Looking toward the future
Some health care organizations are trying to find a balance between productivity/efficiency and patient care. But they shouldn’t be faced with that choice. The term “balance” implies that one needs to be compromised to improve the other. That is most often not the case. Health care organizations can focus on and improve both patient care and efficiency simultaneously. Focusing on productivity and efficiency should be done with a focus on patient care. After all, that is the reason health care organizations exist.
In the next several months there will be UKG content regarding “Rethinking Nursing Productivity” that will be published and disseminated broadly and we look forward to future conversations on this critical topic.