There is little consensus about how to fix our broken healthcare system. But one problem acknowledged universally is nurse burnout and fatigue. This issue has been building for decades and has become particularly acute in the past ten years. Healthcare facilities have slashed staffing budgets which have increased nurse-patient loads. It has also led to mandatory overtime among nurses and laws governing nurse schedules.

But, are laws the solution?

The solution requires many changes. But it starts with better nurse shift scheduling.

The problem of nurse fatigue is most severe in hospitals. Because they need around-the-clock staffing, long shifts are the norm. Better shift scheduling can relieve nurse fatigue. But it is difficult to schedule creatively with substandard scheduling tools.

Hospitals who want to reduce nurse fatigue need workforce management (WFM) for healthcare. WFM for healthcare allows scheduling managers to create fatigue-reducing schedules. Scheduling managers are usually nurses. Creating schedules is only one of their many duties. To care for patients, they use sophisticated medical technology. They need sophisticated workforce management technology to radically improve nurse scheduling.

What is Workforce Management for Healthcare?

Workforce management software simplifies nurse time and attendance and scheduling. Systems integrate with a physical time clock or online clock-in portal. When nurses (whether hourly or salary) clock in and out, the system records it. The system creates time cards for each nurse. The payroll manager imports the WFM hours data into the payroll system. WFM for healthcare tracks PTO accruals automatically according to hospital policy.

Healthcare Templates Simplify Fatigue-Reducing Scheduling

The scheduling tools have healthcare templates. Scheduling managers use the templates to set up standard schedules. The system track certifications (RN, LPN, etc.). And employee type (hospital employee, independent contractor, agency). The manager can copy schedules forward. They can also view them by department, shift, or team.

WFM for Healthcare Helps Managers Limit Overtime

Overtime is a major contributor to nurse fatigue. Nurses often work overtime after a demanding 12-hour shift—it’s the nature of the job. The manager is rarely aware of which nurses continue working after the end of their shifts. WFM systems alert the scheduling manager when a nurse is approaching hours thresholds. The manager can adjust the schedule going forward to prevent or limit the overtime.

Workforce Management Simplifies Compliance

Workforce management for healthcare helps hospitals comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime regulations. It has other customizable compliance tools as well. Hospital administrators set rules in the WFM software based on Federal and State laws. These include the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Family Leave, and local breaks and meals provisions. (It’s important to note that, unlike non-profits in other industries, non-profit healthcare facilities are subject to the same FLSA provisions whether or not they have an annual gross revenue of $500,000.)

Long-term care facilities are subject to Payroll Based Journal (PBJ). Workforce management systems compile the staffing data for the quarterly PBJ reports. The facility can then submit the report to the CMS. There is no need for any manual data entry. WFM for healthcare also helps hospitals comply with collective bargaining agreements.

We have described what workforce management systems do. Now let’s focus on scheduling. There are several scheduling changes that can reduce nurse fatigue.

Accommodate Nurse Schedule Preferences

Large hospital departments have dozens of nurses on staff. Workforce management makes it easier for the scheduling manager to accommodate nurse preferences. When a nurse is hired, the scheduling manager enters shift availability and preferences into each nurse’s profile. These rules guide the scheduling. It would be impossible for a manager to keep track of 50 nurses’ availability and preferences. Even if these were written down somewhere, it would be tedious to consult them when creating complex schedules. WFM for healthcare automates the scheduling process. When the scheduling manager schedules a nurse for a shift, it triggers an alert if the nurse is not available.

Allow Nurses to Self-Schedule

When nurses can pick their shifts, it immediately improves their work/life balance. This helps nurses physically and mentally. With old-school spreadsheets, it is nearly impossible for nurses to self-schedule. Cloud-based WFM for healthcare allows nurses to view the online schedule board from any mobile device.

Workforce management software has online nurse shift trade boards. These make it easy for nurses to handle much of their own scheduling. They request shifts and trade shifts. All team members can see the schedule modifications in real time. The scheduling manager customizes the shift trades rules. They can be set for auto-approve or manager-approve. The system sends an email and/or SMS messages to confirm shift trades.

Post Nurse Schedules Early

WFM nurse scheduling software allows schedulers to create schedules farther in advance. Schedules can be copied forward indefinitely. The manager creates a base schedule and then allows the nurses to swap shifts to suit individual needs. When nurses know their schedule weeks or months ahead of time, less trading is required. Fatigued nurses who need a lighter schedule can give up shifts. Nurses who want more hours can pick up the shifts. This improves nurse retention for hospitals.

Make Sure Nurses Take Breaks

Whether by choice or by a manager’s direction, nurses often miss their breaks. This contributes to fatigue. WFM systems alert nurses and team leads when breaks are due. WFM break enforcement prevents nurses from clocking back in too early from a break. Hospitals should require all nurses—salary or hourly—to clock in and out from breaks. This helps managers plan shifts and protects the hospital from compliance violations.

Hire More Part-time Nurses

Some managers don’t want to add complexity to nurse staffing by hiring part-timers. But part-timers help in many ways. They relieve the fatigue problem for the entire staff. They help full-time nurses stay on a healthy schedule. They can cover for breaks. Hospitals can overcome nursing shortages by hiring semi-retired former full-time nurses. And they can hire those who want to work part-time while their children are young. Workforce management helps nurse scheduling managers create complex team schedules with varying shift lengths. These are spread among a mix of full-time and part-time nurses.

Workforce management for healthcare allows hospitals to customize their scheduling according to their needs. In this way, they can relieve nurse fatigue while maintaining a high quality of patient care.

For more information about workforce management for healthcare, visit SwipeClock Workforce Management for Healthcare.

By Liz Strikwerda

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