Improving Healthcare Productivity Without Risking Burnout

Praisidio Inc
Improving Healthcare Productivity Without Risking Burnout

If you are a fly on the wall in any hospital or health system boardroom, there is one phrase you’ll probably hear more than any other: healthcare productivity. 

Over half of all hospitals in the US operated in the red in 2022. Labor shortages, inflation, and the residual effects of the pandemic have created what some experts call the worst financial crisis facing health systems since COVID-19. 

Short of passing massive cost increases on to patients, increasing healthcare productivity is one of the few routes out of this. 

But herein lies another dilemma. How do we increase productivity in healthcare systems without sacrificing the people who comprise those healthcare systems? How do we increase healthcare productivity without causing employee burnout?  

This article outlines why we need higher productivity standards in healthcare, how to organize healthcare systems to make improvements without inadvertently causing burnout, and importantly – how to measure the effectiveness of those changes.

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Healthcare productivity: Why improvements must be made

Twenty years ago, Johns Hopkins Hospital employed 3,000 people to look after its 1,000 beds. Today, Johns Hopkins Hospital employs 12,000 people for the same 1,000 beds. 

This is a striking example, but unfortunately it isn’t unheard of. 

Beyond being a head-scratching statistic, this kind of labor cost increase means patients end up forking out a lot more for their medical bills. The lower the productivity, the higher patient costs. 

In 2020, healthcare costs reached $4.1 trillion, or roughly $12,530 per person. Compare that to 1960, where healthcare costs averaged around $150 per person per year. 

Many experts agree that by increasing healthcare productivity, we will be able to address much of this issue. McKinsey estimates that by improving productivity as opposed to relying on workforce expansion, we could save up to $2.3 trillion in healthcare costs over the next decade. 

This level of savings would allow the healthcare system to invest more into medical advances, meet the increasing demand of an aging population, and provide more affordable services. 

But as we mentioned earlier, we will need to accomplish all of this while still keeping physicians, clinicians, and staff happy and unburnt out. 

Improving clinical productivity without creating burnout

Increasing productivity in healthcare without causing employee burnout is a tricky maneuver. 

There is a misconception that productivity comes from working people to the bone day in and day out. It actually comes from an efficient, purposeful system. The key is re-gigging your healthcare system to reallocate time more effectively, instead of adding more to your exhausted employees' plates. 

Burnout only makes staff shortages and productivity worse. It's a vicious productivity-killing cycle into employee attrition. So the cost of productivity can't be burnout. 

In fact, there shouldn't be a cost associated with productivity at all. Productivity is the result of a healthy, high-functioning system, and you're not going to get there by forcing twenty more items on your exhausted employees' to-do lists. 

How technology improves healthcare productivity 

Improving productivity is about creating an environment where your employees can function at their best. In the healthcare industry, one of the primary solutions is tech. Tech replaces many time-wasting tasks with automation and lets your clinicians do their job in a focused, attentive state. 

Currently, though, we don't take nearly enough advantage of the tech out there, or when we do, we end up using it in the wrong ways and inadvertently creating burnout.

Here are some of the areas where most healthcare systems don’t use tech, but should:

  • Delivery alerts: In some hospitals, there is no alert system when supplies are delivered, so an estimated 20% of nurses' time is wasted hunting down deliveries (medication, infusion pumps, commodes, nutritional supplements).
  • System upgrades: When administering high-risk medications, we use an outdated double-check system reliant upon manpower and open to human error. These checks take up to 22% of nurses' time. Tech could replace the second nurse and provide automatic dose calculations/changes, reduce human errors, and save time.

When we do use tech, but unproductively: 

  • Time-wasting false alarms: Nurses have multiple devices that they use to monitor their patients, but in many cases they were never integrated into a system or intentionally designed for a common purpose. This means that on average nurses answer false alarms every 45 seconds.

Using tech effectively

Technology used properly is the ideal solution for understaffed and overworked industries. The right technology can do more in a moment than a human can in years, no matter how hard they toil. 

Using tech effectively requires creating an intentionally designed system with all the automations working towards a common goal. Having a great system means your workforce can collectively work at its best. 

Using tech to measure productivity and burnout at the individual level

Your workforce is made up of individuals though, and the sum of their individual productivity is your overall productivity. This is where talent intelligence comes in. 

Talent intelligence is a technology that ensures your individual pieces (employees) function at their peak productivity – engaged, satisfied, and sustainably so. 

A talent intelligence platform takes the human resources data you already have on hand and provides real-time insight into burnout and attrition risks at an individual employee level. It also shows you how each individual employee is measuring these factors moment to moment. 

While you are focused (and rightly so) on your new and exciting productivity numbers, talent intelligence works in the background to make sure the burnout/productivity scales don’t tip out of favor. 

You’ll be alerted to burnout and attrition risks well ahead of time, so you can adjust and re-align your productivity efforts without being hit by a wave of unnecessary staff shortages in a few month’s time. 

Learn more: How to Improve Employee Retention in Healthcare 

Measuring productivity in healthcare

Of course, measuring your productivity efforts is another key piece to this puzzle. Productivity in health care is typically measured via time and money:

  • Time: Amount of time spent taking care of a patient / how many patients are seen in a certain period of time.
  • Money: Labor costs and supplies.

Based on this, lower costs + faster service = better productivity 

But what about the quality of care? Customer satisfaction? These kinds of metrics give you so much more insight into how effective your services are, and of course, contribute to patient retention and therefore revenue. 

It's never about getting patients in and out the door ASAP. 

Things like patient wait time, satisfaction, and retention rates are far more important because there’s no point getting your services whizzing along at top speed if you have no one wanting them. 

Improving productivity in healthcare

To talk about improving productivity in healthcare, we’ll go back to the example of Johns Hopkins University. Faced with an unsustainable level of workforce expansion, Johns Hopkins connected with industry experts to figure out how to improve the productivity of their healthcare services. 

Their solution was a purposefully designed healthcare destination. 

They figured out that along the way, health care has become more and more complicated. And, without a strategic plan, healthcare facilities have added new equipment and practices in an ad hoc manner to meet these increasingly complex needs. 

This means we have a bunch of solutions that aren't integrated, working to meet very complicated problems.

The cost of this:

  • Unnecessary/inefficiently delivered services
  • Excessive administrative costs
  • Missed prevention opportunities

Johns Hopkins discovered that monetarily, these costs amounted to approximately  30 percent of total healthcare spending wasted.

With a harmoniously integrated system, we can: 

  • Reduce materials, operating costs, and labor costs 
  • Increase overall quality, efficiency, and safety

The Johns Hopkins team outlined the first 5 steps that are easiest to implement and will have the biggest effect:

  1. Manage the last 10 feet of the supply chain
  2. Convert human double-check of medications to electronic
  3. Eliminate false alarms
  4. Minimize human documentation
  5. Eliminate human labor costs for submitting and processing a claim

These relatively straightforward changes can make a profound difference in the productivity of any given healthcare system. They do take time and effort, as anything worthwhile does. But the payoff is immense: to the tune of $2.3 trillion, if we listen to the experts at McKinsey.

Increasing productivity in healthcare with talent intelligence 

The importance of protecting your staff from burnout while improving healthcare productivity cannot be overestimated. 

In the excitement of your new productivity changes, the fundamental employee engagement and retention drivers cannot be forgotten:

  • Burnout
  • Bias
  • Disconnection
  • Stagnation
  • Recognition deficits 
  • Compensation deficits

These are the factors that will come back to bite you if your productivity strategies don't respect them. So, it's worth keeping an eye on them. This extra vigilance won’t cost you extra time – in fact, it will save you time:

  • Sifting through your employee data trying to make heads and tails of it
  • Trying to read between the lines during an exit interview
  • Dealing with the cost (time, money, morale) of attrition

Praisidio’s talent intelligence platform requires nothing more than the data you already have but aren't utilizing to its full potential. With this data, you will be given individual bespoke recommendations and management insight.

At the end of the day, clinical, nurse, and physician productivity metrics mean nothing if you have no one on the payroll. 

To learn more about what Praisidio can do for your healthcare system, book a demo here.

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