Real-time scheduling brings transparency to nurse staffing

Have you ever played Jenga®? It’s the game where wood blocks are stacked to build a tower and players take turns pulling one block out of the structure at a time. Pull the wrong block and CRASH! — it all comes tumbling down.

Building a great Jenga tower takes time, patience and a lot of coordination. Nursing shift schedules can be very similar. They take a lot of time to create, require careful planning and must be structurally sound for the highest quality patient care.

When a nurse can’t make a shift, an entire schedule may come crashing down. When a nurse is sick or can’t come in for some other reason, managers and schedulers are often left scrambling to quickly fill vacated shifts to prevent gaps in care and the cascading impact on safety and quality.

Frequent or unexpected schedule changes can create a major disruption to the overall nursing schedule. Shift another nurse to the vacated slot and who fills those vacated hours? Does the replacement have the skills to deal with that day’s patient acuity levels? Who gets the overtime (and how will the budget take the hit)?

Traditionally, scheduling requires nurses to work set shifts, and managers assume the burden of filling hours when someone can’t make it in. Nurse managers often default to a “go-to” employee who they know can pick up the extra shift. However, other nurses who need the extra shift may never know about the opportunity and in turn get upset because they might believe they were overlooked.

Transparent scheduling is fair scheduling. The conversations I have often heard talked about among nurses reveal sometimes nurses can think scheduling is unfair, especially when it comes to who gets extra shifts.

Hospitals that embrace new trends in transparency and self-scheduling will be able to mitigate staff discord and provide better work/life balance for nurses. Rather than trying to fit nurses into a set schedule, managers can still control and fill in regularly assigned shifts while at the same time allow nurses the flexibility to choose, exchange and fill in for other nurses based on their own work/life schedules.

Mobile solutions, such as Optum® Real-Time Scheduler, make the entire schedule transparent to the nursing staff. If someone calls in sick or needs to trade shifts, everyone is notified via smartphone app at the same time. The Optum tool can also limit shift availability to those who won’t be put into an over-time situation or do not comply with fatigue rules.

For nurses, full visibility into the entire shift schedule allows flexibility in choosing hours that better fit work/life balance. Nurses become partners in how schedules are made and, in turn, become more engaged.

Self-scheduling is a sound construction choice. Working in greater collaboration with nurses to fill shifts is fast becoming important building blocks for nursing departments within health systems and hospitals.

Empowering nurses to set their own hours in collaboration with managers and fill shift gaps can create seamless, balanced work schedules that will help retain skilled talent and stand strong over time — even if one, or two, of your blocks are pulled. Everyone is a winner, especially your patients.


For more information–visit our web site: Optum® Real-Time Scheduler


About the Author:

Teresa McCasky, RN-BC, MBA
Product Director, Innovation Solutions, Optum

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