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Nurse scheduling software cuts agency costs, boosts satisfaction

Learn how a Michigan hospital used nurse scheduling software to reduce agency costs and give nurses more flexibility in scheduling their hours.

Before MidMichigan Health implemented standard nurse-scheduling software, it was all too common for nursing staff...

to be overworked at one facility but underworked at another. The Concerro Program, from Concerro Inc. in San Diego helps MidMichigan coordinate nurses' schedules at its four facilities, and provides incentives for staff who pick up shifts at different hospitals. This case study highlights the successes of this nurse scheduling software implementation.

MidMichigan Health is a medium-sized organization with a 250-bed hospital at its hub in Midland, Mich., as well as three smaller hospitals in the center of the state, including two in rural areas.

If a physician moved from one of the smaller hospitals, there would be a drop in services there until MidMichigan could find another physician. "Nurses were not getting their regular status hours," said Lynn Bruchhof, vice president of human resources. On the other hand, the hub hospital was adding a service line and reopening its open-heart center. "Nurses were working time and a half and bringing nurses in from agencies because we needed to staff our operational units," she said.

Besides creating dissatisfied employees, the approach was very expensive -- $60 to $80 per hour for agency nurses versus $25 per hour for staff RNs, said Dana Thering, lead financial analyst in MidMichigan's Department of Administration. At some points, the organization had about 100 contract nurses throughout its sites, she noted.

"There had to be a way we could staff these areas, where we could use all these people who aren't working all their hours and send some of these agency nurses home," Bruchhof said. "Self-scheduling would allow nurses to see and sign up for shifts at different hospitals."

Filling extra shifts via nurse scheduling software

MidMichigan used two or three staff- and nurse scheduling software tools, with each hospital running almost autonomously. There was no central way to find out where nurses were under- or overworked.

"We needed a way to balance the diverse staffing needs of our organization. We have a benefits program that says you have to work full-time -- 70 hours in a pay period -- to get benefits. Nurses were worried they would lose their benefits if they did not get their status hours in. And the other staff was frustrated because they were working extra shifts. And the cost to us was going up," Bruchhof said.

To take control of expenses and enable nurses to work at other MidMichigan facilities, the organization began researching centralized nurse-scheduling software. Bruchhof, Thering and Sue Haley, from clinical nursing, sought requests, requirements and recommendations from employees throughout the organization.

Case fact sheet

Company name
MidMichigan Health

Revenue
Approximately $1 billion

Type of business
Coordinated hospital, home care, nursing home, urgent care and physician services

Software tools
The Concerro Program (Concerro Inc.); renamed MyTimeSelect by MidMichigan

Users
Lynn Bruchhof; Dana Thering

Title
Bruchhof is vice president, Human Resources; Thering is lead financial analyst, Department of Administration

"What was very good about our process was [that] we put an interdisciplinary team together. Three different views ... came together to solve an organizational problem," Bruchhof said.

As the trio did its research, it came across the Concerro Program. To learn more, MidMichigan sent 100 nurse managers to see how another hospital used the nurse scheduling software. "It was a really positive thing because they could see how the software supported their teams and their team," Bruchhof said.

Using Concerro's nurse scheduling software to get rapid results

The Concerro Program is designed to optimize a health care agency's operational and financial management, according to the vendor. The nurse scheduling software and related Concerro services let staff and management collaborate on the work schedule, ensuring the availability of the right staff for each shift.

In September, the group plan to expand these self-scheduling tools to casual part-time employees and retirees who want to work a few shifts a week, month or season, Bruchhof said. This will help MidMichigan retain valuable employees who are familiar with the facilities' policies and procedures but are no longer able to work a regular, set schedule.

The organization expects to add self-scheduling capabilities to other departments, too, Bruchhof noted. "Our goal in the next three years is to move to the Concerro product and have self-scheduling in a much bigger way, where people can self-schedule their core shifts," she said.

Using the Concerro Program -- renamed MyTimeSelect by MidMichigan -- the organization has dramatically reduced its use of expensive contract nurses to only two or three per shift, Thering said. There were gains for the clinical side as well, she added: "Under the old process, managers were trying to fill shifts at all hours. With the new process, it's all completely self-motivated, self-scheduled."

Although core shifts are scheduled by administrators, nurses can opt to work at other facilities by self-scheduling additional shifts. Some nurses tap the scheduling software's email capabilities, which notify all qualified personnel about upcoming hours. Because it is Web-based, nurses can log on from the hospital, home or other Internet-connected locale, via computer or smartphone. Some nurses even access the software while on vacation.

"We saw a large increase in the number of nurses taking shifts in other locations. Some of the nurses at smaller locations were trying to make themselves whole by taking shifts in the larger locations," Bruchhof said.

Spreading the word about new nurse scheduling software

To spread the word about the Concerro Program, MidMichigan launched a marketing campaign alerting staff to the new nurse scheduling software, and provided mouse pads and magnets for easy reference. "As far as implementations go, it went very smoothly. We weren't delayed -- and that never happens to us," Thering noted.

Concerro's system was easy to use. Staff needed little formal training beyond roundtable discussions about the software, Thering said.

MidMichigan continues to have meetings about the nurse scheduling software, processes and procedures. Internal resources offer a first line of response, but MidMichigan quickly receives answers from Concerro when needed, Thering said.

Using nurse scheduling software to pick up shifts -- and get rewards

To encourage nurses to take additional shifts, MidMichigan previously offered financial rewards. Concerro recommended that the medical organization used another incentive program to motivate participation.

What was very good about our process was [that] we put an interdisciplinary team together. Three different views … came together to solve an organizational problem.
Lynn BruchhofVice President of Human Resources, MidMichigan Health

"They had shift rewards, which are points like on a frequent flier card. You can then turn them into merchandise that you can pick out online, anything from trips to purses to gadgets," Bruchhof said.

At first, MidMichigan was skeptical, but Concerro's consultants were confident, and the new system has proven popular. 

"Money only works up to a point. People like what they call 'trophy value,'" Bruchhof said. "We are saving money because we're not just throwing it out the window, and people value the rewards they pick out and choose."

Added Thering: "If they pick out and earn points used for a refrigerator, it's always there. It's something they see over and over. Employees can't really talk about bonuses but they can share their incentives."

Alison Diana is a contributing writer based in Orlando. Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchhealthit.com.

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