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Efficient Staffing Doesn't Mean Heartless Care

News  |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   May 01, 2017

Improving efficiency doesn't have to mean extinguishing the heart or the soul of the hospital.

Do more with less. Run lean. Cut costs. Thrive in change.

These expressions and sayings have been said so many times over the last decade that they've become healthcare clichés, but that doesn't mean that they don't strike fear in the hearts of hospital clinicians.

"Efficiency" and "good for the bottom line" tend to be synonymous with layoffs, downsizing, and other strategies that aren't exactly people friendly, but one hospital CFO says that done right, efficiency works in everyone's favor.

"I know this is weird coming from a CFO, but I'm genuinely not looking to cut staff, and I'm not looking to take time away from the patients' bedside. What I am doing is asking how I can give [clinicians] more time to do things that are adding value to our patients," says Andrew Wampler.

He is vice president and chief financial officer at Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville, NC. In a recent interview he spoke about how efficiency can benefit everyone in the hospital.

1.Shrinking Costs and Operating More Efficiently

Staffing and people are for most hospitals, their greatest cost, accounting for up to 50% of operating costs. It's really top of mind for them," Wampler says.

Additionally, there is the perennial struggle of ensuring the right staffing levels in the face of tighter budgets. "The struggle is making sure that organizations have enough people, and that those people are the right people."

But by keeping turnover down and staff engagement high, hospitals can save themselves time and money, he says. The key is to keep workers engaged and occupied with the right level of work. Turnover and overstaffing are costly and time-consuming.

"If you can avoid hiring new workers and operate more efficiently with the ones you currently have, you will be able to save the system both time and money," Wampler says.

2.The Move to Value-Based Care

To say that the progression to value-based care has or will be difficult is an understatement, says Wampler. "I think we can say it's the biggest change to healthcare culture for staff members… They're used to looking at their area of healthcare as a silo."

But that can't continue in a value-based world. Sharing information, working collaboratively as a team, and treating the patient in a more holistic way is just too valuable.

"The industry has been transitioning to more of an integrated care model, and taking the standpoint that primary care physicians have had for years that we need to consider the patient, their care, and their health and wellness as a whole," Wampler says.

3.Physician Engagement

As more physicians are seeking employment in hospitals and health systems, it makes sense to up physician engagement efforts, says Wampler. It's true that both the physician and the leadership camps can view physician engagement as tedious or a waste of time, but Wampler strongly advises sticking with it.

"In the long run, it does help be more efficient. There is a ramp-up period where you have to work to get that alignment and make sure you're all rowing in same direction. But once you do that, it will provide a higher value."

Engagement helps improve physician productivity and improves loyalty to the organization, says Wampler. "I think that engagement helps with alignment, and that alignment focuses around the patient. As care and employment models change… that alignment helps to keep us all on track over the long run."

Many hospital and health system leaders are still working out the kinks to these changes, but Wampler still believes these new situations will improve patient care as well as life in the hospital for staff.

"I think these changes have brought some people out of their comfort zone, but I think we're also going to see some great benefits."

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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