Forecasting Hospital Hiring Needs
Forecasting hiring needs for healthcare is a complex challenge with meaningful implications for hospital budgets and patient care. Evolving market trends like the rising nursing shortage, high clinician burnout and turnover rates, and thinning hospital margins all place pressure on forecasting staffing needs.
Historically, healthcare staffing prediction models have been highly manual and unreliable, restricted by limited access to data and analytics. Rather than proactively building a recruitment pipeline and staying ahead of predictable needs, hospitals have been forced to spend valuable resources on time-consuming and imperfect recruiting and scheduling processes. As a result, clinical leaders are often bogged down by last-minute staffing fire drills and significant contract labor costs that could be avoided with better staff forecasting.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. Technological innovations in the healthcare staffing market are replacing outdated, ineffective methods by bringing ease, accuracy, and consistency to forecasting. In this post, we explore how to forecast hospital hiring needs in a way that is financially sustainable, supportive to clinicians, and beneficial to patients.
Why is Hiring Forecasting for Healthcare so Difficult?
Before we dive in, let’s align our definitions. When we discuss forecasting, we are not simply talking about using data to generate a conclusion about what will happen next; that is predicting. While prediction is a valuable strategy, forecasts give leaders deeper and broader insight into a multitude of future possibilities—based on solid analytical models, industry trends, and historical data.
Both predicting and forecasting have proven difficult for the healthcare industry to execute, particularly in provider organizations that often have fewer resources to invest. Consider if any of the following challenges sound familiar:
- Little to no visibility into staffing trends across the organization due to decentralized management and lack of collaboration
- Reactive approach to turnover leading to wasted time, lagging operations, and increased stress on remaining staff
- Difficulty capturing, accessing, and/or interpreting data necessary to make strategic, holistic staffing decisions
- Increasing rates of natural disasters and lengthening seasons of expected risk disrupting previously consistent yearly patterns
- Unanticipated global events (e.g., COVID-19) radically and rapidly shifting anticipated staffing demand and supply
- Razor-thin margins discouraging leadership from investing in staffing analytics and management technology
Most hospitals and health systems will resonate strongly with several of these challenges. The reality is—healthcare needs will always evolve. The key is to stay aware of market trends and remain open to the latest technological innovations available. As our access to data and technology increases, so does our ability to develop more accurate staff needs forecasts based on complex data patterns.
What Happens Without Adequate Forecasting?
Healthcare organizations that are not actively working to overcome the barriers listed above and implement proper forecasting are in danger of compounding negative effects on clinical care, operations, and financial health. As you likely know all too well—in a hospital, nearly everything is connected—a staffing issue can quickly and easily start a domino effect across the organization. Problematic progressions often look like this:
Not enough staff to fill schedules leads to increased use of temporary staff and recruiters, which leads to crushing labor costs and budget strains.
Not enough staff to fill schedules leads to overworked clinicians, which causes clinician dissatisfaction, exhaustion and pervasive burnout, which escalates turnover and leads to a breakdown of critical processes and structures that negatively impact quality metrics.
Not enough staff to fill schedules equates to inadequate clinician to patient ratios, providers are stretched too thin and have limited time with each patient. The result is rushed patient handoffs (causing miscommunications at best, medical errors at worst), and a sharp decrease in patient experience and outcomes.
What do you need to properly forecast hospital hiring needs?
To avoid these progressions, hospital leaders need proven strategies for predicting and forecasting clinician staffing needs. Though healthcare is always evolving and unpredictable trends (like a global pandemic) happen, the best way to forecast staffing needs is to analyze past data trends. Based on patterns in past trends, you can build a comprehensive workforce strategy and hiring forecast that prepares your organization to handle unforeseen needs without overreliance on contract labor. Ideally you can factor in unforeseen needs as well as typical open vacancies to start your plan. Take into account several years of data and examine averages of paid and unpaid leaves each month, turnover percentages, and seasonal trends. Look not only at full-time employees, but your entire workforce.
Without technology—this is a very manual process and difficult to maintain and keep up-to-date over time. Fortunately, there are powerful, intuitive technology solutions for hiring forecasting available today. Going forward, technology will be essential to support healthcare workforce strategies and minimize administrative burden. Increasingly, advanced facilities are using digital tools to effectively view their staffing needs and staffing trends overall, accounting for both predictable and unpredictable occurrences. The future of healthcare staffing needs forecasting involves innovations that allow leaders to view and plan for open positions and open shifts cohesively from an enterprise view. These innovations empower hospitals to view their workforce more flexibly and build a pipeline of providers to fill existing and anticipated vacancies.
No matter where you are in your hiring need forecasting journey, you’ll need the following six components to build a sustainable and successful staffing approach:
- Holistic view of data: A critical first step is aggregating and organizing the past few years of data—including payroll, staffing grids, census, turnover rate, clinician-to-patient ratio, FMLA utilization, etc.
- Analysis and optimization capabilities: Collecting this data provides little value if it is not applied properly. Use a predictive analytics tool to process this information and provide models for the health system broadly, as well as each facility and unit specifically.
- Flexible attitude: The output of staffing optimization may be different than expected. As the older generations phase out of the workforce and younger individuals enter in, it’s especially important to embrace innovation and flexibility whenever it is possible and prudent.
- Proactive tracking and management: Before you roll out an evolved approach to staffing, ensure that you have thorough, dependable technology and monitoring structures in place for proactively tracking progress, managing road bumps, and measuring success.
- Reliable partners: There may always be a need for some degree of external staffing, hiring, or recruiting partnership, so make sure you build relationships with a few vetted agencies so you have trusted sources of talent if and when you need them.
- Empowered clinicians: To gain full buy-in and cultivate increased job satisfaction, you’ll want to give clinicians visibility and a voice. Equip them with tools to manage their schedule more effectively and adapt it easily as life changes. In addition, regularly gather insight from the medical workforce to ensure staff assignments and teams are running smoothly at the micro-levels—not just from a bird’s eye view.
Ready to improve your staff needs forecasting process? Trusted Health Works allows you to centralize and manage all staff and shifts in one place, categorize and understand the many different types of supply available for any given shift, and construct more flexible frameworks for balancing supply and demand to match nurses to shifts. Learn more about how Trusted Health Works uses data science and AI to help you improve staff forecasting at works.trustedhealth.com.