7 strategies for making the most of a lean workforce
As the U.S. healthcare system continues to evolve, hospitals and other healthcare organizations are grappling with how to do more work with fewer resources; that includes human resources.
The reason healthcare organizations are operating with fewer staff members is really pretty simple. New government regulations under the Affordable Care Act have created a need for improved technology and have also increased administrative burden. Therefore, organizations are cutting expenses to cover the added costs. And staff is a major expense.
So how can healthcare organizations continue to function with leaner workforces without sacrificing quality? Here are seven strategies from experts in the field:
1. Develop patient care teams. Tracy Ream, CEO of Neighborhood Healthcare, suggests these teams include physicians, midlevel providers, registered nurses, medical assistants, pharmacists, medical records staff, referral clerks, and scribes. Each team would be assigned a panel of patients. Every morning, the teams would get together to decide what should be addressed for each patient on the schedule for that day. The meeting would help the team “proactively prepare” for whatever the patient may need (e.g., procedures, labs).
2. Using Lean Six Sigma methods. According to Kimberly Watson Hemphill, CEO at Firefly Consulting, “any process can be studied and improved using basic Lean Six Sigma methods.” Therefore, Lean Six Sigma can be used to improve admission, discharge, and support processes. It can also be used for logistical processes like making sure the right supplies, food, equipment, and medications are where they need to be in the right quantity at the right time. “Once you start looking at these functions as processes, it becomes clear that there are many opportunities for applying Lean Six Sigma to make improvements,” says Watson Hemphill.
Many healthcare organizations have already had success with Lean Six Sigma, according to Watson Hemphill. For example, one hospital initially had an average operating room turnover rate of 90 minutes for hip and knee replacements. Using Lean tools (e.g., stream maps, waste assessments, 5S methods, quick changeover), they were able to reduce turnover to less than 30 minutes. “That made the rooms available for additional operational procedures each day, meaning more patients could receive treatment more quickly,” Watson Hemphill says. The hospital replicated the methods for other surgical procedures and saw gains in multiple areas.
3. Define staff responsibilities. For example, Ream says in some cases, medical assistants are redefining their jobs and being trained to assume many tasks that are within their scope of practice but have been historically performed by physicians. This allows the physicians to spend more time on patient care.
4. Consider new services. According to Perry Price, president and CEO of Revation Systems, it’s time to better optimize centralized services and begin the transition from traditional services (e.g., nurse triage, scheduling) to include new offerings like virtual care, health coaching, and more. “This will be the key for organizations to further enable accountable care,” Price says. “Such services will eventually lead to a lower burden on healthcare systems, as well as higher quality of care for consumers.”
5. Use a cloud provider for data storage. Scott Whyte, Advisor and Former Chief Strategy Officer at ClearDATA, says “rather than trying to build and manage security internally, many organizations are entrusting at least part of their data to cloud providers.” According to Whyte, moving health data to a highly-secure HIPAA-compliant cloud will relieve you of part of the burden of storing, managing, and protecting your data. As a result, “IT professionals can be better leveraged or retrained, then reassigned to other IT projects,” he says.
6. Use bots to fill in the gaps. Raj Koneru, CEO of bots company Kore, says bots are well-equipped to help healthcare providers provide quality care with leaner workforces. For example, Koneru says his company’s platform allows providers to “use or create virtual assistants that take on tasks that typically require human interaction or time-consuming searches through rich data.” This will result in “major gains in both staff productivity and efficiency, and patient involvement in wellness efforts,” he says.
7. Consider outsourcing. Services that some hospitals are currently outsourcing include information technology and housekeeping.