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Do we have 21st Century workforce management technology with Stone Age results?

April 27, 2017

The introduction to “The Flintstones” shows Fred Flintstone clocking out from work at the end of his shift. He drives up to the timeclock at the exit of the rock quarry, inserts his stone timecard into the mouth of a dinosaur, which bites down to simulate “clocking out.” That stone-age technology was impressive—and fun!

With the 20th Century came the wide-spread use of time clocks. These were mechanical devises where the employee would insert his or her paper timecard into the time clock. The timeclock would then stamp the time on the timecard. The benefits of this upgraded timeclock technology were the same as the stone-age technology. It allowed companies to track when their people started and ended work. Just like in Fred Flintstone’s day, someone in the back-office would manually calculate the number and types of hours to be paid. Accuracy of pay was dependent on the person adding up the hours and applying the company’s pay policies to determine the types of hours, such as shift differentials and overtime.

The late 20th Century saw the rise of computer and information technology. Companies began to automate the time collection and pay calculation processes. Badges were used to “clock-in” and the computer would calculate the number and types of hours to be paid. Although the promises of this new technology to manage labor costs and improve efficiencies were somewhat fulfilled, few additional benefits were actually realized. In healthcare, the complexities of union agreements, wage and hour regulations, and recruitment incentive programs still made time keeping a time consuming task, even in the automated environment. It is common for a nursing manager, for example, to spend half a day on “payroll Monday” calculating timecards. I have written about the reasons for this in previous blog posts.

Are we realizing more benefits from automation? Yes, and no.

Today, we are seventeen years into the 21st Century and I have to ask, “Are healthcare provider organizations realizing more benefits from the latest automation and technology that they did in the late 20th Century or in the Stone Age, for that matter?” I would argue yes and no.

The workforce is front and center in today’s healthcare organizations because reimbursement is based on outcomes and operating margins are getting tighter. Hospitals need to measure their workforces in new ways to quantify the impact on cost and quality.

Yes. Technology has improved with the cloud, software has been designed to better accommodate the complexities of calculating pay, and managers have access to better information. There are analytics to break down labor hours, track premium pay and perform root-cause analysis. However, healthcare providers still require new data, processes and tools that do not exist in many systems today

No. Although most organizations may have 20th and 21st Century technology, an overwhelming majority deployed these systems with a Stone-Age approach–a focus on the transactional aspects of calculating hours to pay. In the 21st Century, workforce management has expanded to include scheduling and acuity. Even these systems reside in silos in the organization and provide little value beyond the departments for which they were intended.

I’ve mentioned several times the transactional focus of these systems and do not want to downplay their importance. The transactions, systems and processes that capture and calculate time, create and manage schedules, and pay people correctly are vital to the organization. The functions of these systems and transactions created by these systems serve as the foundation for any workforce management program and must be executed flawlessly. I have written extensively about how most hospitals fall short in this blog and how they create risk for providers.

Time for a focus on the future

Today, seventeen years into the 21st Century, executives realize the value of the information buried in their workforce management systems. To operate in today’s environment of thinning margins and outcomes-based reimbursement, providers are seeking tools that integrate production (clinical, financial, operational) with labor data to yield analytical insights beyond traditional workforce management systems.

At Infor, we recognize this need as well and the changing focus of managing the workforce. In response, we have shifted our focus to the patient experience. It is the unique and personal needs of the patient that determine the assigned individual care giver. This in turn drives staffing. At the organizational level, the patient experience drives resource planning and talent requirements. Our tools provide frontline managers and executives with the analytical insights needed to manage financial and clinical outcomes, ensure our nurses are practicing at the top of their licensure, and improve employee engagement.

Technology has made tremendous advances since the Stone-Age days of Fred Flintstone. We now need to take a 21st Century approach to managing our workforce. That begins with a focus on the patient experience. When the patient is at the center, we can realize the benefits of our workforce technology investments that in turn enable the patient experience and drive operational and clinical outcomes.

-Alan Bateman, MHA, Healthcare Industry Strategy Director
  • Healthcare
  • EMEA
  • North America
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