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How Mercy Streamlined Onboarding of its Healthcare Workers

Analysis  |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   October 17, 2016

The large health system recently overhauled its onboarding procedures to save time and money and to get new hires to work as soon as possible.

For the protection of workers, patients, and organizations, hiring healthcare workers involves a number of necessary steps including vaccinations, drug screenings, background and reference checks, and health tests.

But these actions can cause hiccups in the onboarding process if the results come in after the worker has already started working, and the consequences can be costly. So anything that expedites the process or cuts costs is welcome to most HR departments.

Christopher Bos is director of human resources at Mercy in Springfield, MO. Mercy operates 45 acute care and specialty hospitals and more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities. He discussed the highlights of the organization's recently streamlined onboarding process. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

HLM: Tell me a bit about how streamlining your onboarding processes has helped with recruitment and retention.

Bos: We are in a competitive market for healthcare coworkers. The faster we can get workers in here and get them to work, the faster they can see our culture and experience it, and the greater the chance they're going to stay.

HLM: How has HR been able to involve the recruitment team to increase the efficiency of the onboarding process?

Bos: One thing we started back in January through employee health was giving vaccines to our healthcare workers, such as MMR and T-Dap. But we quickly went over our budget. New coworkers would come in, they couldn't remember which shots they had already received, so we had to give them a vaccine.

But we realized there might be a more efficient way to handle this. We partnered with the recruitment team and made asking applicants to check in with their healthcare providers about which vaccines they have already received ahead of time a part of our onboarding process.

This change put the candidates at ease. Now, they know what to expect. They aren't going to employee health and being put on the spot about something they haven't thought about in years.

Now, new workers are coming in with all of their vaccination records, and we're not spending the dollars to do vaccinations unnecessarily. We're actually below budget in this area presently.

HLM: What are some other examples of how you have made onboarding less time-consuming?

Bos: We're required to do TB testing, and we previously used skin tests. You inject serum into the skin, wait two to three days, check it, wait another two to three days, and check it again. So, best case scenario, if everything went right with that skin test, it was 13 days until we had final clearance for a new applicant to start.

In September 2013, we adopted a new blood-draw based TB test. When our coworkers get their blood drawn at our lab, prior to even doing their new-hire paperwork, it takes about three to four days to get the results back, and they're ready to go.

With our new blood tests for TB, there's no coming back for a second screen. It's easier for the HR team, the employee health team, the applicant, and our patients, too, because these professionals are starting work faster.

Workers can still request the skin test, but I've not had anyone request the skin test since we introduced the blood test.

HLM: What is the price difference between the two tests like?

The new blood test is $50 per applicant. The old test was $13.17 per applicant time last I looked, but there were more soft costs involved, such as loss of hours worked. That amount gets pretty high when you look at the hourly wage of a physician or other highly paid clinician.

HLM: Were there any other pre-employment tests you've been able to streamline?

Bos: We also went to rapid drug screenings. It's a ten panel screen, and they have their drug results within five minutes. It's faster, and it saves recruiters from the awkward position of pulling the new worker out of orientation should the results come back positive.

HLM: And what's the cost differential for this test versus the old one?

It's less expensive than the traditional drug screen we previously used, unless we have to send them to the lab to do further analysis due to prescriptions or other issues. There's more cost there, but overall, we're running ahead of budget. I'm very pleased with the way that's working.

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

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