Cross Social FutureAll too often, organizations respond to a budgetary edict to reduce labor costs by cutting a certain percentage of FTEs – without regard to patient demand, overall workload or staff satisfaction. To create sustainable, positive changes in your capacity planning process, your organization should begin by reviewing how you currently align staff and resources with patient flow. By taking a bottom-up approach and consulting frontline managers, your organization can quickly identify bottlenecks and opportunities to correct suboptimal scheduling practices.

By focusing on patient arrivals and flow, your organization can create an actionable capacity planning cycle that optimizes staffing and saves you money. Instead of reporting on past performance, your capacity planning solution should provide nurse managers with real-time patient arrivals by the hour, with adjustments to the staffing plan already incorporated. Once managers begin to trust the forecast as consistently accurate – and to know that they can adjust staffing as necessary – a culture of proactive capacity management can bloom. By creating a less chaotic environment, the practice of staffing to demand can improve both staff and patient satisfaction.

Most of the financial emphasis around capacity management focuses on reducing labor costs while optimizing patient flow. But when the goal is to improve operating margins, that approach covers only part of the equation. The single most profitable area of any hospital is elective surgery, and smoothing the OR schedule is one of the best levers for smoothing patient census. Yet most capacity planning tools do not address OR optimization, let alone its downstream impact. Too often, OR optimization is segmented off as a separate planning project, ensuring suboptimal results from the start. 

Instead of reporting on past performance, your capacity planning solution should provide nurse managers with real-time patient arrivals by the hour, with adjustments to the staffing plan already incorporated.

Your capacity management system should be able to predict both scheduled and unscheduled demand by procedure – enabling OR schedule optimization and resource alignment on affected units. It should also enable planners to build multiple “what-if” scenarios that illustrate the daily impact of proposed changes on other departments and units.

Before your organization invests in a predictive analytics tool for capacity management, make sure to evaluate the solution’s ability to grow with your organization. Capacity planning tools that are embedded in a staffing system can only be used with that system, which limits their reach. Your capacity planning system should be vendor-agnostic and capable of working with multiple staffing, scheduling, patient flow and analytics systems.

Proactive capacity management involves substantial cultural and behavioral change. In addition to technical resources, your implementation team should include experienced advisors who work with you to define desired outcomes and translate them into measurable objectives. At the end of the engagement, your organization should possess both the tools and the knowledge to achieve expected results.

As with any emerging technology, the market for capacity forecasting is rapidly evolving. Please download the white paper, Predictive Analytics for Capacity Planning: All Forecasts Are Not Created Equal, to help you learn what to look for when choosing a solution. 

Billie Whitehurst

About the author

Billie Whitehurst, M.S., R.N., is vice president of Capacity Management for McKesson Connected Care and Analytics, where she leads the company's efforts to offer solutions that help health organizations achieve sustainable operating improvements by enabling a proactive approach to workforce optimization, capacity and throughput. Whitehurst has more than 15 years' experience leading clinical IT teams serving acute and homecare markets. Whitehurst has a master's degree in health care administration and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Colorado. She is board certified in nursing informatics from the American Nurses Association.