November 23, 2020

Why Now Is the Time to Adopt a Flexible Staffing Model

Much like the pandemic accelerated the adoption of telehealth and remote patient monitoring, it has also pushed healthcare organizations to adopt more flexible staffing models.

By Heather Johnson
Flexible nurse staff chat while walking up stairs in a hospital.

Healthcare organizations nationwide face a holiday season like no other: not only do they have to manage a rise in COVID-19 and influenza patients, they have to do it while recovering from six difficult months of revenue loss.

The American Hospital Association estimates the net financial impact of COVID-19 at $36.6 billion between March and June 2020. According to a Healthcare Financial Management Association/Guidehouse survey, two-thirds of hospital executives surveyed expect a 15% annual revenue loss this year. Nearly one fifth project a 30% or more shortfall.

The upheaval caused by the pandemic has prompted healthcare organizations to implement new and/or more aggressive budgeting measures. Typically, that means cutting labor costs; however, this year is anything but typical. And a hospital can only cut so much before it affects patient care, especially when those cuts involve healthcare professionals. In a pandemic year, these professionals are more important than ever. The solution? Think flexible.

Much like the pandemic accelerated the adoption of telehealth and remote patient monitoring, it has also pushed healthcare organizations to adopt more flexible staffing models. “As pandemic waves come and go, and as demand for elective surgeries and other non-COVID-19 related services fall and rise, the number one lesson that healthcare delivery organizations are learning is the need for flexibility in where, when and how care is delivered,” said Craig Ahrens, CareRev’s Senior Vice President of Strategy and Growth, in an article for Modern Healthcare

What does a flexible staffing model mean for a hospital or ambulatory surgery center? Let’s take a look.

What is a flexible staffing model?

A flexible staffing model adapts to changes in supply and demand. Flexible staffing not only means shifting quantity according to volume, it also means flexibility in where, how, and when providers deliver care. Flexible staffing is a great alternative to hiring permanent employees.

One example of a more flexible approach that started well before the pandemic is the team-based approach, where healthcare professionals across disciplines provide patient-centered care. Studies suggest the team approach improves outcomes and lowers costs. 

A team-based approach during COVID-19, however, gets complicated when professionals need time off, or when mildly symptomatic professionals want to return to work. How do you isolate a teammate? How do you replace a teammate when you have limited resources without disrupting the staff-skill mix?

In this case, another flexible staffing model could be adjusting the levels of full-time employees vs. per diem professionals to better adapt to fluctuating patient demands. A regional hospital system in the Midwest, for example, is shifting its full-time staff from 95% of patient census to 50%. It’s using CareRev’s platform to cover their remaining staffing needs with local, on-demand professionals who only work when there is enough demand.

Whatever you choose, the goal of a flexible staffing model should be to adapt more easily and efficiently to fluctuating patient volumes without driving up labor costs.

What are the benefits of a flexible staffing model?

A flexible staffing model allocates employees where they’re needed most and engages interim staff when needed. For clinical staffing, that includes per diem professionals culled from both internal and external pools. 

The traditional, rigid staffing model relies heavily on permanent full- and part-time employees. Hiring increases (or shifts get longer) when business increases. Layoffs and furloughs happen when business slows. The traditional model erodes employee morale and engagement due to the disruption around layoffs. Employees feel dispensable. Managers are left with vacancies to fill, but no one to help them with what they need today.

Within a flexible model, employees feel valued. They recognize that by bringing in per diem talent, you’re providing them relief during peak times. Managers feel empowered. By calling upon qualified, readily available talent, they get their needs met today—not six weeks from today. They don’t have to spend time recruiting, interviewing and onboarding employees, which frees them up to focus on higher level projects.

A flexible staffing model also allows you to:

#1: Lower costs

Using per diem nurses helps lower fixed labor costs—per diem staff fall into variable expenses. You also eliminate costs associated with recruiting, hiring, and onboarding employees, as well as overtime expenses.

#2: Strengthen resilience

With a flexible staffing model, you’re more immune to fluctuations in patient volume and economic variability. If your health system has to rein in costs or elective surgeries get put on pause (again), you can weather the storm.

#3: Support full-time employees

With per diem professionals on hand to support your full-time employees, you free up those employees to focus on their core competencies. More one-on-one time with patients leads to improved outcomes. Improved outcomes can mean higher reimbursements under value-based payment models.

#4: More access to specialized skills

When you tap into the per diem workforce, you tap into a wealth of specialized knowledge and expertise. Fill knowledge gaps within your department without a lengthy recruitment process and without the expense of hiring a full-time employee.

How can technology enable a flexible staffing model?

While using per diem professionals brings flexibility to a clinical team, the right technology aligns that model with today’s workforce. Consider this: most adults own a smartphone. Those smartphone users spend most of their time using apps. What do you think is the easiest way to reach candidates?

Meet healthcare professionals where they are by adopting technology that fits into their busy lives. Using a mobile app designed for healthcare staffing, you can quickly deploy and communicate with employees, internal per diem pools, and external resources. 

For per diem professionals, picking up a shift should be as easy as requesting a ride on Lyft. Nursing managers should be able to broadcast open shifts across units, departments, and facilities in as much time as it takes to send a text.

With a cloud-based platform such as CareRev, that’s possible. CareRev makes a flexible staffing model possible with its easy-to-use interface and mobile solution. Because the platform operates in real time, managers can quickly re-allocate professionals to facilities with higher demand, making the most of valuable resources. And when your internal per diem pool isn’t enough, you can broadcast open shifts to CareRev’s fully vetted roster of on-demand professionals.

A flexible staffing model is key to managing costs while ensuring you meet patients’ needs. Today’s cloud-based, mobile-friendly technology makes adopting a flexible staffing model not just easier, but possible.

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