Over the past ten years, an aging, largely baby-booming population has fueled a growing demand for healthcare. At the same time, the healthcare market has experienced increasing limitations in resources, including both the money and the number of providers needed to run their organizations.
Changing budgets caused by continued revenue pressures, competition for specialized clinicians and physician shortages have caused a number of issues for departmental leaders. They need to make sure their clinician staffing levels are balanced, providing enough qualified, credentialed staff at any given time without over-running on cost or creating staff dissatisfaction.
Finding the Balance
As Ed Howell, an expert on physician shortages, explained, "Healthcare is the business of people caring for people, and if you don't have the right people in the right place at the right time, you can't efficiently and effectively provide good care." In other words, quality healthcare depends on balancing adequate staffing levels with the care demands in hospitals.
With the market forces building pressure on cost management, turnover rates and provider shortages, striking this balance is becoming increasingly difficult. Leaders must understand how to maximize the output of their current providers to increase organizational efficiency and staff satisfaction without sacrificing the quality of patient care. They must have the ability to:
- Predict patient demand through any shift, time of day or location,
- Pinpoint which providers work most and least effectively, and
- Apply this data to make efficient, cost-effective decisions about their staffing plans.
Departmental leaders must begin to think differently about physician scheduling strategies in order to meet patient demand. Because there's so much variability across the practice of medicine, from the kind of procedures physicians specialize in to the kind of settings in which they work, matching a lean physician schedule to the care demands in hospitals begins with effective, transparent communication. The best way to manage this communication and bring all of the necessary providers together is through clear, comprehensive data.
The Clinical Enterprise Approach
To tackle these issues, leading healthcare organizations must implement an clinical enterprise approach to physician scheduling by bringing together data, analytics, operational tools and organizational discipline. This approach drives hospital-wide cohesion, communication, accountability and change.
Critical data such as physician schedule, patient schedule data, time and attendance data, payroll data and production data, departmental leaders can gain insight into the work performed, the time it took, what it cost and how much it produced in one set of actionable views. This gives clinician and departmental leaders a clear view of what needs to change, as well as the data needed to prove the importance of suggested changes.
Unfortunately, some organizations that are able to gather this data still struggle to interpret it in meaningful ways. The data takes time to compile, and some may lack the resources needed to view staffing data in real time across shifts, personnel and locations. Without the right tools, some of this data is hard to come by or does not exist. Other data is scattered across systems and makes it almost impossible to use to drive organizational change.
Other organizations have adopted these tools in a limited way without recognizing opportunities for the wider system. The ideal enterprise physician scheduling system allows both leaders and managers to:
- Review important, real-time data on an ongoing basis and act to reduce staffing costs without sacrificing the quality of patient care
- Distribute clinical work evenly decreasing burnout risks
- Allow physicians more control over their time and their schedules further driving physician satisfaction
- Identify specific areas for change with granular, activity-based costing, and
- Enact and test changes to clinician staffing levels on a regular basis.
Of course, all of these practices require the infrastructure, both in terms of processes and systems, to understand the data collected and utilize it to make smart changes to staffing strategies.
Mr. Howell described OpenTempo's physician scheduling solution and Insights platform as "the most effective tools [he's] seen on the market" for bringing together real-time scheduling data from multiple sources, facilitating communication across all service lines and departments and highlighting opportunities to improve productivity and reduce cost-per-case without compromising patient care.
Why? Because OpenTempo's Insights platform effectively encompasses not just physicians but other healthcare providers, allowing everyone to come together under a common set of rules, platform of communication and scheduling system. As more and more healthcare organizations move away from fragmentation, the capacity for a system-wide application is where the most significant return on investment occurs.
"It's more than just a tool," Dr. Howell said. It helps cultivate a culture of trust and transparency among physicians, increases leadership credibility and acts as an effective vehicle for communication. By dealing more broadly with the issue of lean physician staffing levels and increased demand — as it affects the clinical enterprise as a whole — the Insight platform helps department leaders put the necessary changes into action.
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