The Right Approach
to Optimising the
Patient Care Workforce

Trends in healthcare management

Rod Hart, Vice President and Partner and
Therese Fitzpatrick, PhD, RN, Principal and Practice Operations Leader 

Nursing labour is one of the biggest expenditures in acute care today, consuming about twenty-five to thirty percent of a hospital’s overall budget. It’s challenging to manage staff in a dynamic environment where demand is unpredictable and patient engagement is critical. Healthcare organisations are under pressure to better manage labour costs and can be penalised for re-admissions and lapses in quality of care delivery. Attempts to compensate for the current nursing shortage can result in under-staffing, staff burnout, excessive use of outside contract labour and scheduling discord.

A key part of the problem is that the infrastructure for managing the patient care workforce is bound by rigid and outdated policies, processes, and procedures that do not accommodate ever-evolving care models. Further complications arise as hospitals consolidate, merge, or build out their network and have a need to standardise and optimise staffing across a broader enterprise. Health systems need new methods to manage and measure the outputs of their staffing systems in order to enhance the productivity and flexibility of their clinical staff.


To optimise today’s patient care workforce, health systems must take a holistic view to help support the change initiatives that impact all areas of a hospital or healthcare network. This requires both a qualitative and quantitative solution to manage the dynamic nature of a staffing network in which many aspects are acting and reacting in parallel. It also necessitates a data- and demand-driven optimisation model to meet coverage and staff preferences while recognising the multitude of system constraints and work rules.

“A key part of the problem is that the infrastructure for managing the patient care workforce is bound by rigid and outdated policies, processes, and procedures that do not accommodate ever-evolving care models.”

A strategic approach

Nursing leadership and hospital management teams need to build sustainable internal capacity and capabilities that meet immediate project objectives while providing flexibility for future needs. To find the right approach to configuring the patient care workforce, health systems should focus on these three key steps:
Create a Demand-driven Strategy
Identify, analyse and assess patient demand at the department, cost centre, hospital, and enterprise level with ongoing visualised data awareness to help support waste reduction without impacting quality of care.

Utilise Demand-driven Optimization Models
Leverage pertinent information, algorithms, and business intelligence to ensure the optimal staffing mix (proper coverage at the lowest cost) given the financial and operational realities within an organisation and ensure better forecasting and performance assessment. These can include analysing historic supply versus demand data to identify over- and under-staffing issues, budgeting, time clock, and work rules.

Connect to Staffing Ecosystem Objectives
Connect various departments and functional areas to improve productivity and staff satisfaction with a solution that engages staff at all levels of the organisation to facilitate learning and improve change effectiveness.

A data-driven modelling approach to creating nursing and other clinical workforce staffing strategy, policies, and practices can increase productivity and staff engagement while reducing costs across an enterprise or newly formed healthcare network. As improvements are made, managers should be able to refocus time and expertise on value-added patient activities. If done right, these changes can have a long-term and sustainable impact on an organisation.

Logistics and other industries with multiple variables and constraints have increased efficiency by leveraging data- and demand-driven optimization models. As the healthcare industry continues to transform, the most innovative healthcare systems are applying these principles and achieving similar success.

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