Staffing Success in Healthcare: the Need for Socially Intelligent Staff Scheduling

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Critical access hospital (CAH) leaders consider hiring and retention of physicians their biggest challenges today. This is particularly acute in the case of hiring millennials. Hiring and retaining qualified staff are big consumers of an organization's time and money. It takes an average of 41 days to fill a position. The estimated recruitment cost per physician is between $268,000 and $957,000 while the replacement cost and the associated departure losses for a single primary care physician can top $250,000. The real cost is over $1 Million: this is a significant expenditure compounding in the $4 tr healthcare sector in the US.

Due to lack of funding, some hospital leaders increase their part-time rosters to be able to manage their staffing issues. Others rely on health recruitment agencies to keep up with the demand. Can we do any better? Improving job satisfaction and providing a better work-life balance for staff are known to improve retention as well as job performance. Not surprisingly, medical errors related to fatigue and stress can also be dramatically reduced.

Physician burnout is a major predictor of turnover. Scheduling in healthcare might be overlooked as it just seems impossible to offer an optimal solution that would keep everyone happy. One way to attract and keep employees and particularly millennial physicians is to provide flexibility in terms of hours of work and more control over the desirable work-life balance. This does not have to break any contractual or organizational rules nor your bank. Health teams need to get more personal and relevant. This can certainly be aided with technology that is personal and efficient. In that direction, a new class of human resource management tools have recently emerged. Socially intelligent staff scheduling platforms focus on getting to know each individual on your team and then aim to place them in shifts and on tasks that not only satisfy the needs of the job but also their personal needs.

Millennial physicians are demanding control. Giving them the ability to have a say into their schedule creates an emotional connection between them and the hospital. Not only physicians’ availabilities but also their preferences should be taken into consideration in the scheduling process.

Socially intelligent scheduling technology asks the right questions from each employee and then uses machine learning and AI (Augmented Intelligence) to give physicians what they need such as the option to choose who they prefer to partner with at work and when to work. Night shifts, weekends, and holidays mean differently to different physicians. Instead of trying to be “fair” by assigning equal number of night shifts, for instance, managers could use the help of a smart scheduling system to define an “optimal” schedule that would make everyone happy while ensuring operational coverage.

Today’s technology also helps managers treat physicians more fairly in situations where conflicts would have arisen in the past. For instance, a systems equipped with machine learning and powerful analytics can detect productivity as well as antagonism patterns and bring them to the attention of managers and stakeholders. Built-in messaging and notification functionalities are almost a must. This is where natural language processing (NLP) can derive further insights about operational excellence for the healthcare team. This can also assist managers and physicians swap shifts and if possible bid for shifts. This is another key dimension of a Socially Intelligent Staff Scheduling platform. Imagine a future where doctors get teamed up on the same shifts with nurses and residents they work better with. Imagine avoiding personnel conflicts which can lead to patient injuries or even death. This is truly the future of healthcare workforce management we have been waiting for.

When staff feel comfortable in their work environment, they show far superior job performance. These social parameters increase job satisfaction because people feel more empowered and connected. This feeling of being in control of one’s schedule further leads to improved retention rates.

Despite the proliferation of machine intelligence in all aspects of our live these days, healthcare has a significant catching up to do. There are some good signs. Technology aware hospitals and savvy healthcare professionals are noticing and the shift towards improving performance without sacrificing people’s jobs has commenced.  “We are looking at technology and new sources. We are not static at all.” Richard Wedig, Chief of Clinic and Surgical Services Officer at Wickenburg Community Hospital said. It really helps.