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In this uncertain economy, health systems’ margins are more precarious than ever. Organizations are facing significant changes to reimbursement structures, growing consumer demands and extreme staffing shortages. These challenges have made it imperative to maximize existing resources in both the clinical and administrative environments.

The challenge is how to increase productivity for the system while maintaining a high level of satisfaction among team members.

Just cracking the whip won’t work when employees have so much leverage in the job market. Instead, leaders must invest in technology tools and workflow optimization strategies that actively relieve burdens on hardworking staff, encourage retention, and enable teams to focus on their key responsibilities.

Here’s how to start improving productivity and team satisfaction to support better outcomes for patients, a more stable staffing environment, and healthier margins for the health system.

Clearly identify and map the pain points in critical workflows

Just like the patients they serve, health systems often exhibit symptoms of underlying problems in the processes that keep them running. Identifying those symptoms, and accurately tracing them back to the source, is the first step for solving productivity concerns.

Take patient flow issues, for example. Providers may be routinely conducting “hallway healthcare” because they can’t find beds for their patients. This could be a result of overuse of expensive telemetry beds to compensate for staffing shortages, inefficiencies in the discharge process to speed up turnover, or “cold bed” syndrome, where providers simply aren’t aware that there are empty beds available elsewhere in the facility.

All of these are symptoms of communication breakdowns that frustrate staff and create the potential for patient safety concerns and poor experiences. Health system leaders need to work with their frontline providers and managers to flag critical metrics that are creeping into the red and trace them back to the ultimate source of the problem.

Understand how to intelligently apply technology to areas of concern

Once leaders have made an appropriate diagnosis, it’s time to start treatment. A variety of technologies are available to boost productivity across the organization while ensuring that staff members feel supported, engaged and able to provide the best possible care.

To ensure appropriate use of telemetry equipment, consider adopting analytics tools that can use a patient’s clinical status and risk factors to determine whether more robust monitoring is truly necessary for their stay.

Cold beds can be filled more quickly by implementing automation in the turnover process, enabling housekeeping staff to immediately alert clinical teams when a room is ready for the next patient.

And making an effort to streamline click-heavy EHR workflows, expand access to patient data from across the organization, and communicate with primary care providers and other external partners can significantly reduce the time it takes to ensure a patient is ready for discharge.

As a result, “hallway medicine” should be a less common occurrence and staff members can feel as if they are working together at the highest level of efficiency and productivity. 

Involve staff members in workflow optimization from day one

Achieving this ideal state will be a team effort. Leaders must take an open and collaborative approach to identifying bottlenecks and deploying high-impact solutions. Embracing the principles of Human-Centered Design can provide a strong framework to guide improvement activities.

Consider having staff members nominate champions to represent them during the entire optimization process, from identifying issues to selecting and implementing workflow-friendly technologies. These champions should have frequent opportunities to consult with their teams and share feedback on works in progress before final decisions are made.

Health systems must also make sure that all tools are designed for mobility and accessibility. Mobile solutions empower providers to complete mission-critical tasks whenever and wherever necessary in the unpredictable healthcare environment, making it easier to keep processes moving no matter where staff members happen to be located at the time.

Encourage retention through flexibility, simplicity, and a people-first mentality

Leveraging technology to create more seamless and effective workflows is the key to achieving multiple goals for health systems. Patients can receive better care when staff members are aligned in their mission and equipped with the resources to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. A shared sense of purpose – and the ability to achieve it with minimal friction – can make staff more satisfied with their positions and less likely to leave for new opportunities.

The result is a more stable staffing landscape and higher quality patient care environment, which can lead to more satisfactory revenue generation and the ability to reinvest resources in patients and staff.

To jumpstart this positive cycle, health system executives need to pair technology improvements with staff retention activities. Organizations should consider providing educational opportunities to help team members engage with new technologies, and offer the flexible benefits and competitive compensation packages modern workers now expect.

By taking a detailed look at process breakdowns, adopting the right technologies to solve for bottlenecks, and holistically supporting staff to work at the highest possible level, health system executives can achieve their financial and clinical goals while creating welcoming, efficient, and productive environments for patients and staff members alike.

To learn more about increasing productivity at your organization, access Altera Digital Health’s new workbook, “Pursuing peak productivity,” here.