Using data to better manage your flexible healthcare workforce | Litmus Australasia

By Andrew Turner, Managing Director

Healthcare Data

The value of quality data became apparent early on in my career. Identifying its ability to significantly impact both the back-end processes and direct delivery of healthcare.

Whilst working in the healthcare industry for the past 14 years, the ability to make considered decisions across every aspect of the operation, from resourcing to finance, often came down to data. It was clear that being able to track and understand all aspects of a workforce was crucial to sustained efficiencies and savings. Over the years I have witnessed both huge success and huge overspend and inefficiencies at the hand of data, or a lack of.

Questions around data and information, more importantly access to it, have remained at the forefront of how I approach my role. Do providers have the systems and capabilities to truly understand their demand for flexible labour and its current usage? What is the right balance between permanent vs. flexible labour and is their mix appropriate? The key to unlocking this is effective workforce management, introducing process automation and data to enable healthcare leaders to make effective decisions.

As the topic of data in healthcare has evolved over time, many organisations have embraced the importance of such information across parts of their operation, however, many remain disadvantaged by a lack of quality insights throughout the complete process. I am still surprised by how many healthcare providers do not fully understand the choices made around the use of flexible labour and the impact these decisions have on patients and resources.

From direct experience, high usage of flexible labour suggests:
• Frequent unplanned or forecasted patient activity
• High volumes of empty permanent roles
• Deficiencies in workforce planning such as unbalanced rotas
• Poor organisational controls

I have simplified the root causes of demand and I acknowledge that there are often complex, overlapping micro and macro factors but often one or a combination of these reasons results in using additional flexible labour.

Locum doctors, temp nurses and contract allied health professionals form a critical part of a hospitals staffing mix and will always be needed to deliver quality healthcare, but there are consequences when a provider’s usage of these precious skills is uncoordinated or managed ineffectively.

The impact of high flexible usage was highlighted in the Sydney Morning Herald¹ in 2019 around locum usage in New South Wales and the challenges that frequent use of short-term assignments pose to building a cohesive team. From a financial perspective the costs of unchecked flexible labour usage are hard to ignore, staffing is a hospitals biggest expense with the cost of a flexible worker up to 50% more than a permanent employee.

Controlling usage or demand often means having the data and tools to prevent the activity in the first place, does your organisation have these tools?

At the time of writing, COVID-19 is the elephant in the room. The impact and fallout will be felt for years to come, in the short-term healthcare providers will rightly focus on the immediate response and looking after the sick, with governments offering funding, equipment and infrastructure. However, when life returns to normal (whatever normal is) the longer-term impact on public services will begin to be better understood. How healthcare leaders navigate a new landscape will require new thinking and the adoption of different behaviours.

One thing that I feel is a certainty is that the system leaders will be expected to use their resources more effectively, putting greater focus on efficiencies, quality, tracking and spend.

If you are a healthcare leader how do you begin to get insights into your flexible worker usage and more importantly, how do you equip your teams to make better choices?

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