Balancing Workforce Efficiency in Healthcare with Patient Needs and Care

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

There is tremendous room for improvement in how healthcare operates. Not only is the lack of workforce efficiency in healthcare a waste of resources that could be devoted to better care and helping more people, but sometimes it may even contribute to poor outcomes. According to Health Affairs, “approximately 30 percent [of what we spend on healthcare] can be attributed to wasteful or excess spending, including spending associated with unnecessary or inefficiently delivered services, excess administrative costs, prices that are too high, missed prevention opportunities, and fraud. Health care costs continue to increase faster than the GDP, impacting the budgets of federal, state, and city governments; employers; and individuals" (Pronovost et al, 2019).

The same article examines other industries’ efforts to reduce costs, splitting their measures into one of two options—using fewer services or increasing productivity. Healthcare has “largely focused on using fewer services. On the one hand, this is appropriate because the industry overuses many services, and some are harmful. On the other hand, no other industry solved its cost problems by simply consuming less; they also improved productivity" (Pronovost et al, 2019).

Addressing Productivity in Healthcare

It is alarming that some technology adoptions in healthcare have actually led to declines in productivity. When they have occurred, small productivity gains may require care providers to work at a pace that is not sustainable. No healthcare organizations can afford an increased level of burnout among doctors and nurses, which is already something that is out of hand. Importantly, however, “Economic models suggest that if health care productivity could grow by 4 percent, we would solve the health care cost problem” (Pronovost et al, 2019).

Suggestions for Making Healthcare Practices More Efficient

Here are a few suggestions for making healthcare professionals and processes more efficient:

  • Manage the Last 10 Feet of the Supply Chain

Hunting for supplies may take up to 20% of a nurse’s time. IT is time we came up with a solution for these activities that “add up to wasted time and unnecessary costs, induce safety risks to patients, and are disrespectful of nurses’ professionalism, contributing to dissatisfaction, burnout, and turnover” (Pronovost et al, 2019).

  • Convert Human Double Check of Medications to Electronic

It is very important to verify dosage and administration involved with high-risk medications like narcotics or insulin. When done as recommended, a manual double check can take up an inordinate amount of nursing time. The solution is to adopt an “electronic double check [that] would be more effective and efficient than a human double check; it would reduce medication errors, avoid distraction errors in the second nurse, and result in labor savings” (Pronovost et al, 2019).

  • Eliminate False Alarms

It is estimated that “On average, nurses answer a false alarm every 45 seconds from multiple devices used in support of patient care” (Pronovost et al, 2019). Devices need to be integrated into a single notification system so that time spent turning off an alarm doesn’t prevent responses when they need to occur.

  • Minimize Human Documentation

Here’s where documentation requirements and EMRs have created more problems than they solve—"Clinicians spend up to half their time and several hours after work documenting in the EMR, contributing to physician burnout and its associated safety, productivity, and personal risks” (Pronovost et al, 2019). Automated documentation is needed badly.

  • Eliminate Human Labor Costs for Submitting and Processing a Claim

The business side of healthcare, from all sides, is a significant source of extra, unnecessary cost. By some estimates, “Hospitals’ administrative costs—including costs for submitting and processing claims—account for 25 percent of total spending on hospital care. Insurers and employers also incur significant costs for processing claims” (Pronovost et al, 2019). Electronic submission, uniform data guidelines, and a shared platform are a way to support efficiency in healthcare to reduce costs and frustration while advancing quality.

Every effort that improves efficiency in healthcare will create an opportunity to provide more and better care. Workforce efficiency in healthcare is a goal to which every organization in the industry must commit. In a world where costs continue to rise and the need for healthcare for an aging population continues to grow, we have no choice but to find ways to do things better, cheaper, and with more attention to quality.

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