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3 Ways to Take Control Over Patient Flow, Staffing

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, August 6, 2013

Forget stubborn physicians and wildly fluctuating patient volumes. Nurse leaders really do have control over the highs and lows of patient throughput and related staffing problems.

For nurse leaders, it can sometimes feel as though things just happen to their units, things that are beyond their control: Unyielding physicians whose schedules are set in stone; patient flow that fluctuates so widely it's impossible to get staffing right; a sudden rush of patients to the ED that leaves nurses overwhelmed and burned out by the end of their shifts.

But it doesn't have to be that way, says Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE, former administrator for nursing and patient care at St. Luke's Health System in Idaho, ANA board member, and author of The Nurse Manager's Guide to Innovative Staffing.

"They look at the churn of their patients as if [they] can't control it," Mensik says. In fact, she argues, nurse leaders can, to some degree, control the flow of patients and staff accordingly, if they harness unit-level data to find trends and identify how they change staffing and routines to accommodate those trends.

"We think of staffing as static," Mensik says, but it shouldn't be. "How can we plan better for what we know what we can be expecting?"

Mensik is among the speakers at the upcoming Fostering Innovative Staffing Solutions conference co-hosted by the ANA and the American Nurses Foundation. She'll be leading a session that will encourage attendees to work in groups to "really think outside of the box when we think about staffing."

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