Illnesses and accidents don't follow preset schedules. Too often, it seems, they arrive without warning. And that's when patients turn to their trusted hospital system for on-demand healthcare from a trained and experienced team of clinicians. And when those talented people converge to provide care, administer tests, and help patients, it's essential that they bring the right balance of skills, experience, and energy to give the best possible outcomes.
But how do HR executives, physician leaders, and nursing managers ensure that they've got the right professionals in the right place at the right time to deliver the optimal level of care? How can they prevent staff fatigue and excessive overtime costs to ensure proper coverage on every unit for every shift?
These are some of the workforce management questions that we've addressed head-on at North Shore-LIJ Health System, one of the nation's largest nonprofit secular health systems. With 16 hospitals and more than 350 outpatient facilities delivering care to more than seven million community members we need to manage a workforce of more than 45,000 talented professionals while pursuing the twin goals of delivering quality healthcare and keeping a sharp eye on the bottom line. The result: a complex business equation that requires forward thinking.
Recently, we identified certain workforce management practices that weren't as efficient as they could be, leading to wasted time, lower productivity, lower employee morale, and unexpected costs. By implementing a comprehensive workforce management solution, North Shore-LIJ has improved the way it manages employees and day-to-day labor practices while achieving dramatic reductions in overall costs. This solution has already led to identified cost savings of more than $8 million, a typical operating margin of a small community hospital. At the same time, the health system automation has helped employees and managers deliver better results and outcomes.
As North Shore-LIJ acquired new hospitals, clinics, and other facilities, we inherited a slew of disparate processes, systems and technologies. The result: It was a huge challenge to achieve the workforce visibility and control we needed to manage our employees effectively. Even basic labor practices such as collecting time and attendance data or staff scheduling consumed an extraordinary amount of time and energy.
Managers were spending too much time and effort with paper-based information or other homegrown solutions. And with that data trapped in paper or multiple spreadsheets, we couldn't generate the real-time reports and insights needed to make business decisions. Instead we were seeing labor trends after the fact, when it was too late to influence results.
For instance, when an unplanned staffing shortage occurred, we might habitually summon an employee because she lives nearby and is usually available on a moment's notice - even though that employee is paid at a far higher rate. With real-time data visibility and analysis, we recognized we could fill shifts more efficiently by asking another qualified employee to come in and work for a lesser rate. By introducing options such as per diems and part-timers, we have created a more flexible skilled workforce.
It didn't take long to recognize that we needed a new way to manage our workforce management processes that could match the high-quality focus we have on our clinical practices. We wanted a solution to find and prevent the anomalies, eliminate duplicate efforts, streamline processes, and uniformly apply controls and standards for scheduling. We felt this strategy would not only reduce our costs but improve employee productivity and morale as well.
After an extensive search, we selected our workforce management solutions provider and started implementing the vendor's time and attendance, scheduling, employee self-service, reporting and analytics applications. Our implementation has easily exceeded our expectations and helped us achieve numerous results, including the following:
- Efficient Timekeeping - Instead of paper timecards, our employees now use timekeeping terminals as well as other online technology to enter their time, check their schedules, and request time off or schedule changes. We even use biometric terminals, which have reduced costs related to "buddy punching" - the costly act of employees punching in for one another.
- Stronger Scheduling - Supervisors can now create more effective schedules to align labor with anticipated demand (which we can determine from a daily patient census) while complying with rules and regulations. Since all schedules are online, on-call employees or travelling nurses can get information they need anywhere, anytime.
- Empowered Employees - Our employees enjoy a better work-life balance because our supervisors are no longer overly dependent on a few key resources. That translates into stronger teams as newer employees can get more training and hands-on experience. And, employees have the control to see their comings and goings real-time, with easy access to managing their schedules and time-off requests online.
- Better Managerial Insight - Thanks to powerful reporting and analytics, our executives and managers have real-time visibility into our workforce so they can make smarter decisions faster.
With our new system, we have the appropriate staffing to properly care for all of our patients - whenever and wherever needed. At this point - about two years into our rollout - we've already identified significant cost savings that point to a very compelling ROI as well as long-term, sustainable cost savings. We carefully examined all employee-related areas, including absenteeism, overtime, buddy-punching, scheduling, compliance, human errors, and a reduction of paper. In our analysis, we conservatively estimate that we will save more than $8 million as a direct result of implementing workforce management technology.
As we constantly strive to transform the operations and improve existing practices, we believe that workforce management technology gives us smarter strategies and more effective processes for managing our workforce, significantly reducing costs, and delivering better financial and clinical outcomes for all stakeholders.
Jim Bosco is vice president of Corporate HR, North Shore-LIJ Health System.