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Considerations When Combatting Staffing Shortages

Lia Cirelli and Lila Kelso


January 26th, 2022

Considerations When Combatting Staffing Shortages

For the past several years there has been an ongoing shortage of healthcare workers, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There have not been enough nurses, doctors, and technicians to treat the growing patient population, leading to dire consequences for care delivery such as halting elective surgeries or closing hospitals and other facilities. In addition, having an ongoing shortage of nurses and other staff directly impacts patient care. A more strained workforce can lead to medical errors such as under or over medicating a patient, increasing the risk of infection, and much more. As patients experience subpar treatment, they form negative perceptions about the healthcare facility, which can lead to lost facility revenue due to lower patient volumes caused by patient dissatisfaction. To combat staff shortages, those still working are often asked to complete more tasks during their shifts and be expected to work overtime as well. This leads to more stress amongst healthcare workers, increased burnout, and a high employment turnover. Overall, this becomes a vicious cycle as the staffing shortage crisis continues.

Going forward, hospitals and healthcare facilities need to learn how to create and find efficiencies despite the shortages and work to recruit new employees and retain the staff they currently have. By optimizing the staff a hospital currently has, systems can develop better efficiencies quickly. For example, if a department takes more of the administrative tasks away from the clinicians (such as billing and computer charting) to administrative personnel, clinicians caring for patients will have more time and energy to deliver high quality care.

Health systems should also focus on their quality improvement departments as means to address staff shortages. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many hospitals have limited their investment in quality improvement departments, as noted in the Becker’s Hospital Review article, “The less-discussed consequence of healthcare's labor shortage.” Despite the staffing shortages and tightened constraints due to COVID-19, hospitals should not cut quality improvement. Quality improvement is needed as it helps hospitals with monitoring safety. Taking away from quality improvement measures will not save money or effort that a hospital is already spending.

A specific way hospitals and healthcare systems can be efficient with staff is to utilize predictive analytics to understand patient care. Predictive analytics can give staffing coordinators and healthcare leaders the knowledge and insight to predict their staffing needs days in advance. By knowing what the needs are ahead of time, more strategic decisions can be made before challenges arise. For example, a hospital can predict its patient census multiple days in advance, giving them the ability and extra time to meet the demand when and where it arises. See this article entitled “Leveraging Technology to Optimize Staffing Shortages Post-Pandemic” for more details.

Ultimately, finding ways to be more efficient during times of staff and nursing shortages and a worldwide pandemic comes down to understanding data. The data on safety and quality will show trends over time and can then be monitored afterwards to see the impact of changes for improvement. Analyzing the data can show the information of the before, during and after a specific intervention to address a particular need. At Avant-garde Health, we use this data to help hospitals find value in their care by identifying and realizing opportunities to lower supply and personnel costs, improve outcomes, and create more efficient operations for hospitals and health systems all over the country. Contact us to learn more about how we can bring value to you.

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