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Hospitals operate 365 days a year, 24 hours a day with no down time, so efficiently scheduling staff is important.
Saint Mary's Hospital in Waterbury, Conn., had a problem in this regard: There was no way to not only see how many nurses attended to each patient, but also whether patients received the appropriate amount of attention from the appropriate number of nurses based on their illnesses and needs. Because of those obstacles, Saint Mary's couldn't tell whether it efficiently scheduled nursing staff or whether certain nurses worked overtime unnecessarily.
That's why Saint Mary's deployed its healthcare workforce management applications in the Kronos cloud in February 2015, and, nearly a year later, that strategy has paid off.
"[We saved] approximately $650,000 from a reduction in overtime through better control and additional labor savings through the use of analytics for productivity," Michelle Godin, R.N., manager of nursing business operation at Saint Mary’s, said. Kronos is a seller of employee management software in Chelmsford, Mass.
"A software solution that can give you in-the-moment, accurate information about what really is required in terms of labor enables healthcare organizations to make a better decision, a more informed decision, in terms of how they're going to deploy labor, and therefore there is less waste in terms of over-staffing a unit," Susan Reese, R.N., chief nurse executive and director of marketing for healthcare at Kronos, said. "There's also less risk, because the other side of that is you don't want to under staff either and adversely affect patient care."
Although Saint Mary's has been using Kronos' products since 1996, the hospital had not been using the cloud or analytics, Godin said.
By combining information concerning real-time admissions, discharges and transfers with the daily schedules of the nurses and acuity guidelines, Saint Mary's can better justify either keeping nurses working overtime or sending them home for the day. This also, in turn, improves efficiency among the nursing staff because, based on the patient's needs, the correct number of nurses are assigned -- no more, no less -- simultaneously ensuring that a patient gets the proper attention while possibly freeing up nurses to attend to other matters.
How healthcare workforce management works
Godin explained that the nine nursing units at Saint Mary's use Kronos' product OptiLink, which gets a feed of hospital information -- such as real time admissions, discharges and transfers -- that combines with the daily schedule of the nurses on those units. This electronic tandem helps the nurses understand whether they are staffing appropriately given the number of patients in the unit and each patient's needs.
In each of the nine units, nurses can go into the application, see the patients they have assigned to them and then they can classify the patients based on acuity.
"Every day each nurse ... just clicks on the name of the person and identifies the level of care that that patient requires," Godin said. "We have guidelines that say, 'Here's what is supposed to be a below average patient, here's an average patient.' And they literally just click on a color and put the patient in the colors that they find the patient to be."
For a nurse's normal assignment of four or five patients, this whole process takes almost no time at all, Godin said. And learning the guidelines takes a nurse a couple of weeks, she added.
In order to help assess the nurses' workload through patient classification and acuity, Kronos' healthcare workforce management product integrates with Saint Mary's EHR, Reese said. "We have the ability there to actually draw information from the electronic health record into the Kronos solution and use that as part of the assessment of workload for patient care."
Benefits of the cloud
Because Saint Mary's healthcare workforce management solution resides in the cloud, the hospital doesn't have to worry about assigning IT staff to manage this software, Reese said. "It frees up those labor dollars if they can move that solution into the cloud and let us at Kronos carry the burden of maintaining the solution for them."
The cloud is attractive to hospitals and healthcare organizations for a couple reasons, Reese said.
Firstly, "it's not a huge financial outlay up front because you simply are buying the service," she said. However, Reese would not say the exact cost.
And secondly, the cloud ensures that "the customer is always on the most current version of the software product," she added.
On the other hand, as has been reported by SearchHealthIT, hospitals are wary of cloud services because of security concerns.
Improving patient care and workflow
In addition to saving Saint Mary's money, this healthcare workforce management solution has also helped the hospital improve patient care by ensuring that a patient is receiving the appropriate amount of attention from the right people.
"Having the acuity is not just based on the number, it's based on how sick [the patient is]," Godin said. "So there is a comfort there of knowing ... what we're supposed to be providing."
In addition to having confidence that patients are receiving the care they require, it has also given more visibility into the work load and workflow of the nursing staff.
"Before ... there was no way, visually, for us to see what was on that unit," Godin said. "It's helped to make sure that there's some fairness and balance in the assignment."
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