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Web-Based Staff Scheduling

June 1, 2004
by root
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Use Internet tools to close staffing gaps before they happen by Stan Rosen

Web-based staff scheduling

How to make the staff-scheduling nurse a welcome addition to the cost-management team Caught between rising costs and reduced reimbursement, long-term care facilities must continually find creative ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency. More than half the cost of running a long-term care facility is labor, which is by far the largest controllable cost for institutionally based organizations. Most organizations have mastered the obvious by controlling the costs of food and laundry. Many facilities, however, have not yet mastered the science of labor management.

Healthcare facilities must maintain proper staffing levels 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They must meet federal and state requirements, as well as internal standards for quality of care. Staffing ratios and per-patient-day (PPD) staffing levels, if required, must be continually recalculated. Facilities' staffing FTE reports, as defined in the Federal Register, must be posted and available to all concerned.

Yet all of this must be accomplished in an environment that is constantly in flux. The realities of nursing shortages, last-minute call-offs, personal time-off requests, vacation schedules, personality conflicts, and more must be considered to create schedules that work for both facilities and employees.

And, as if that weren't enough, it is vital for facilities to create the least costly schedule that takes all of these variables into consideration.

This seemingly overwhelming task is undertaken in most facilities by a staffing coordinator. Armed with little more than handwritten notes and an Excel spreadsheet, this overtasked, underpaid individual is charged with controlling the largest cost in the organization. Given the monumental challenge he or she faces, this staffing gladiator can be expected to produce a wide range of results-results that are often more closely related to the staffing coordinator's particular capabilities than to the science of labor management. For many facilities, the bottom-line result is the loss of thousands of dollars monthly.

The question at hand is this: How can labor-management principles and staff-scheduling practices be standardized to facilitate consistent results and maximum savings?

Peeling back the layers of labor management, facilities must focus on several factors. The first step is to remove the facility from a perpetual state of crisis management. Most organizations make their staff-management decisions in retrospect, based on payroll and time-clock reports. Facilities are, all too often, responding to last-minute call-offs and unscheduled leaves, without getting at the root causes of these actions and planning for the future. The money is spent before appropriate staffing decisions can be made. Overtime and the use of temp agencies often substitute for proper position control and hiring practices. Overtime can occur on one unit, while overstaffing occurs on another. Similarly, more costly employees are sometimes used in lieu of less costly ones.

Web-Based Solutions
Leading-edge facilities are using new Web-based staff-scheduling tools to standardize labor-management practices and minimize costs. Some of their benefits include standardized staff-scheduling criteria, as well as centralized enterprise-wide reporting and labor-management reporting, enabling prospective management of the key factors that otherwise lead to cost overruns.

The best Web-based products turn the average staffing coordinator into a manager, continually comparing staffing decisions with the budget to avoid cost overruns. PPDs and staffing ratios are instantly recalculated as the schedule is modified moment to moment, day to day. Filling empty slots is expedited with pop-up screens that provide lists of available employees, sorted from least costly to most costly, employees least likely to cause overtime, or other criteria for decision making.

Time and attendance data are recorded as part of the process, providing information that helps avoid continual crisis management. Position-control reports, detailing open employee slots without consideration of vacation and holiday time, are created so that managers can see hiring needs well into the future.

The Web is a perfect medium for this new breed of intelligent cost-cutting application. The Web is cost-effective, offering centralized control on one server across a wide area network, with no need for costly third-party products (such as Citrix) to run more traditional PC applications across the network.

Managers can work from home, viewing up-to-the-minute staffing information at the touch of a button. All that are needed for this are access to the Web, a user ID, and a password.

What to Look for
In Web-based staff-scheduling systems, look for enterprise-wide reporting capabilities with a central database. A central database is essential for reporting across the larger networks often used by multifacility environments. Multiple databases, if used, require merging of decentralized files into one central database for centralized reporting-which means that any network interruption in the middle of the file merge can lead to corrupted, unreliable data.




I know that I am little slow for joining in on this discussion. However, what I have to add is still very relevant.

There are a great many staff scheduling programs available. They all have their own approaches to scheduling and are of a reasonable quality. Depending on how your organization operates they will do some things very well and some things poorly. It will matter greatly on how the product suits your specific requirements. The only way to ensure that the product is what you are really looking for is to try it out. Create schedules, project them well into the future, print reports and call for support. No matter what product you purchase you are going to have to learn about the product at sometime. It is better to learn before buying rather than after.

Asgard Systems Inc. will allow you to work with their scheduling program for free. If you elect to purchase it, they will send you a CD so you can install the licensed version. All of your previously entered schedules will still be active in your licensed installation. It is worth investigating.

You can learn more about their scheduling software at http://www.asgardsystems.com. They also have information on issues regarding comparative shopping for related softare