What Will Future Staffing Offices Look Like?

by | Apr 6, 2016

As Axsium’s healthcare strategist and someone who closely monitors (and sometimes influences) industry trends, this is a fun topic of discussion for me. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do watch and listen and think about where the opportunities for growth are and what new experiments are working well. This gives me a unique perspective on the ongoing evolution of hospital staffing offices.

I break up the future trends into two categories: (1) Cutting edge trends from today for tomorrow, and (2) Predictions for a few years down the road.

Cutting Edge Trends From Today For Tomorrow

There are two clear trends starting to emerge from the progressive staffing offices of today. Both trends are about expanding the areas of responsibility for the staffing office.

The first expansion is about growing beyond just centralized staffing. (By “staffing,” I’m referring to the responsibilities and tasks related to filling holes on the schedule and floating staff around.) The latest trend is to expand to the responsibility of the staffing office to include centralized time keeping. This means that staffers are not only maintaining the schedule for real time shift-to-shift changes, they are also managing timecards in real time as well. This involves making sure staff clocked in correctly and have the right transfers in, whether it be on the schedule or the timecard. The purpose of this is to relieve some of the administrative burden that managers have in terms of hunting down missed punches and making sure PTO was put in for the right days. It also eliminates part of the communication gap because the staffing office is already neck deep in what the employees should be doing in terms of work schedule.

Having staffing offices manage timecards as well is a solid efficiency with real ROI behind it. We have helped several of our customers implement changes in their existing staffing offices to move in this direction and our experience is that it is not as problematic as it may appear on paper. I’m personally a big fan of this trend.

Side note: When we start talking about expanding the staffing office responsibilities to centralized schedule building, I find that this is much less successful. I don’t include this is a trend, but still want to call it out to be clear. Maybe in the future, after staffing offices have successfully assimilated timecard responsibilities, centralized scheduling will gain more momentum. But in today’s world, I find that there are still too many emotional attachments to the schedule building process for it to have the same positive impact as centralized timekeeping.

The second expansion I see is for staffing offices to expand their responsibilities into ancillaries. These units have similar (although not identical) needs to nursing units when it comes to managing shift-to-shift staffing changes. The ROI is there because centralized staffing offices are already structured to manage these changes. The biggest challenge is training the staffing office on how to manage the operational needs of the ancillaries and making sure they have the tools in the scheduling system to execute properly.

When we help our customers with making this cutting edge adoption, it takes some work to get it going smoothly. There are some tricks we’ve learned to make this happen faster and easier, but the important thing is: It is doable. And, when a centralized staffing office is smoothly handling “whole house” staffing, it is a beautiful thing!

Predictions For A Few Years Down The Road

This is where I get to put on my pundit hat and speculate about the future. Fortunately for me, this is a very straightforward prediction. I already see tiny hints of it here and there. So here goes:

I predict that the centralized staffing offices of the future will transform into Centralized Operations Centers.

You heard it here first! Within five to ten years, we will stop thinking about staffing only and look at these groups as a centralized location in the hospital – or even the health system! – that manage not only staffing, scheduling, and timecards for the whole house but also handle mobile equipment deployment, patient scheduling and transport, and other hospital operations coordination. I’ve referred to nurse scheduling and staffing in the past as the “operational heartbeat of the hospital.” In the future, that heartbeat will become the entire circulatory system, pumping staff and patients and equipment around the hospital.

There are some challenges to getting there, of course. The immediate finger to point is at technology. Software systems are still isolated from each other, which makes managing data and operations a little more disjointed and challenging. That’s where interoperability should help. Although the focus of interoperability is on patient data, that model should trickle down to the other hospital technologies. From there, the bigger challenge will be change management and adoption of new techniques and practices. Personally, I’m anxiously awaiting the opportunity to take on that challenge!

From your vantage point, what do you seeing be the future of staffing offices? Tell me about it via the comments below, email (cflanders@axsiumgroup.com), or Twitter (@FlandersChris).

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