Challenges of Healthcare Workforce Management & Labour Forecasting

Healthcare workforce management is not an easy task. To provide high-quality care, it’s essential to have that right balance of staff to patients — but it’s difficult to get that equation right with all the potential, unexpected changes that can come your way. 

Luckily, labour forecasting can help you get ahead of these problems and plan ideal staffing across your practice, but numerous factors can cause a forecast to go awry.

Let’s examine some of the most critical healthcare workforce forecasting factors. 

5 factors that can throw off healthcare workforce forecasting

Here are five factors that can affect forecasting for the healthcare industry. We discuss general labour demand forecasting concerns in another article. 

1. Seasonality

Seasonality in healthcare can mean a variety of things — the most common is flu and cold season — but there is more to seasonality than that. It can also include a clinic closing down (temporarily or permanently), natural disasters, or any other form of tragedy. 

Seasonality problems lead to stressed-out staff, longer patient waiting times, and poor patient experience. 

How to improve seasonality problems

  • Prepare for what you can: As mentioned before, cold and flu season is a recurring event. If past data shows an overwhelming increase in patients at a certain time of year, create plans to meet that need ahead of time. 

  • Hiring temporary help: Temporary staffing in healthcare can be a great solution. While temporary workers receive higher hourly wages, organisations don’t have to pay any benefits, so you can save money in the long run while ensuring proper patient care and  reducing staff burnout. 

  • Cross-train employees: Create initiatives that cross-train staff in various areas of work. While some areas require formal education, others can be handled with training. When things get busy, cross-trained employees can help fill the gaps. 

  • Appreciate your employees: While this isn’t a direct solution when things get busy, it’s easy to forget how hard everyone is working. You’d be surprised at the difference a simple “thank you” can make during stressful times. 

2. Staff-to-patient ratio

A key performance indicator (KPI) in healthcare workforce management, the staff-to-patient ratio shows how many care staff are available per patient. It measures a patient’s safety and experience and is also a good way to measure resource management. 

How to improve staff-to-patient ratio

The best way to improve your staff-to-patient ratio is to better organise and use your resources, which a labour forecasting tool can help with. 

3. Availability of talent and the hiring process

The talent pool in the healthcare industry is severely limited. It’s predicted that by 2026, there will be a healthcare labour shortage of 3.2 million workers in the U.S. In 2021, 40% of hospitals had accelerated hiring to meet demands, 36% had normal hiring, and 21% had cautious hiring. 

How to improve your hiring practices
  • Upskill current employees: Sometimes, you don’t need to hire outside employees. Plenty of employees want the chance to advance their careers. 

  • Create better job descriptions: You need to grab the attention of healthcare talent. You can do that by tailoring your job descriptions for what you’re looking for and adding information they’re looking for (like hours, pay, and perks).

  • Have a good relationship with rejected applicants: Even though you don’t hire them this round, treat them kindly and keep their info on hand for next time.

  • Speed up the hiring process: While it’s essential to be thorough in the hiring process, especially in healthcare, taking too long can be a detriment. Figure out ways to speed up the process — such as automating some tasks.

4. Staying within budget

At healthcare clinics and care facilities, labour costs can fluctuate when overtime and holiday pay become part of the equation. It’s vital to properly plan for those extra expenses and be appropriately staffed to minimise those costs as much as possible.

How to stay within budget
  • Pay attention to seasonality: By properly forecasting the workforce you’ll need during busy seasons, you can anticipate costs and put affordable staffing solutions in place.

  • Reorganise your budget: It might be time to look at your budget again and see if it can be improved.

5. Turnover and retirement rates

Turnover and retirement rates are a problem within healthcare workforce management because of the limited talent pool already discussed. For registered nurses (RNs), the turnover rate is 18.4%, and almost 60% of Gen X physicians plan to retire by age 60

Organisations need to have labour forecasting plans to handle when employees are lost through retirement or quitting.

How to improve plans for turnover and retirement
  • Prevent burnout: 46% of health workers felt burned out often in 2022. Inflexible work schedules, lack of breaks, and low pay lead to burnout. See how your organisations can mitigate these problems

  • Offer career advancement opportunities: Organisations can retain employees when they have easy access to advancement opportunities. 

  • Plan ahead: Keep up with recruitment and start planning a replacement as soon as you learn an employee is leaving. 

Simplify your workforce management for healthcare employees 

As you can see, healthcare workforce management is much more than just scheduling teams; it’s about preparing for a variety of scenarios. This can be almost impossible without help — which is where Deputy comes in.

Our software can streamline how you approach staffing in healthcare, from figuring out budgets and scheduling to achieving ideal staff coverage across your practice. See how our labour forecasting tool can improve your healthcare organisation.