Internal resource pools (IRPs) – sometimes also called float pools – can be transformative for hospitals and health groups in ways they may not even realize. An IRP powered by a high-performing technology platform can help hospitals create competitive advantage not just through better utilization of their contracted labor but also through smarter staffing strategies that can put more ambitious business objectives within reach.
With an IRP in place, it becomes easy for health systems to flex staff up and down based on census and acuity changes. That enables these organizations to better deal with shortages, seasonality, growth and expansion plans, and more – while better meeting organizational goals.
For these reasons, many organizations have already created their own resource pools and labor plans. However, these plans often don’t align with their organization’s goals and initiatives. The missing piece? Using the IRP itself to create, inform, and power better staffing strategies. But how, specifically, can a smart IRP platform power better strategy?
1. It helps patients. It’s worth remembering every health system’s core purpose: treating and healing patients. Staffing strategy doesn’t exist in isolation from this larger mission; it’s a key dimension of it. When open roles go unfulfilled, it means more patients per nurse , and health outcomes suffer. Worse, the consequences of understaffing can be serious: a study published in Annals of Intensive Care found a statistically significant higher survival rate for patients with higher staffing rates. Researchers concluded, “Exposing critically ill patients to high workload/staffing ratios is associated with a substantial reduction in the odds of survival.”
2. It can expand staffing functionality, so your organization has more strategic options. The underlying goal of any IRP is to attract enough nurses to be able to avoid using external (high cost) resources. If your goal is to reduce use of agency labor, then you must engage the contracted workforce directly. This can help you get the most out of the staff you already have. A flourishing IRP gives hospitals a cost-efficient option for staffing contingent nurses before they have to turn to overtime, agency, or incentive pay.
However, the nursing workforce that hospitals need to reach with their IRP don’t want to be owned or controlled or treated like normal employees, and 77% want to want to be able to use technology to review and accept assignments.
The right strategy for attracting these nurses rests on being able to engage them when, where, and how they want. That means, at minimum, allowing for two-way communication with a user-friendly app that streamlines and simplifies engagement. The IRP program – and its underlying technological platform – must be designed to do that. With the right IRP in place, one that allows hospitals to successfully reach the so-called “app-enabled workforce,” new strategic possibilities open up. That includes dramatically expanding their bench of floating resources. One Tennessee-based hospital system literally tripled the size of their float pool in only three months.
3. It generates actionable data that can fuel more effective staffing strategies. When IRPs are underutilized, they don’t provide adequate insight into how well or poorly the existing staffing strategy is performing. With the right IRP setup, however, the staffing office can set and monitor almost any metric they wish, like utilization trends by department and specialty and productivity of contingent staff. With that, the organization can gain valuable visibility into hours/FTE’s being scheduled without having to resort to manually created spreadsheets. That enables organizations to use their IRP program as a planning tool to budget and respond/prepare for future demand drivers.
The IRP nurse manager at the Tennessee-based health system mentioned above, for instance, says that enhanced data and communication has allowed them to deal with staffing holes before they turn into staffing emergencies: “We can get those out proactively instead of trying to crisis- manage so much.”
4. It makes the staffing process more efficient. A more efficient staffing process frees bandwidth for the staffing team to focus on higher-priority strategic objectives. That’s because an advanced IRP system does not require workers to engage in laborious “smiling and dialing” to fill every role, nor does it require hours of manual labor to create and manage spreadsheets and reports. The Float Pool Director at a health system in Detroit, for example, used to spend 16 hours running reports, like who’s meeting or not meeting minimum commitments. “Now I can get it with a quick report,” she says.
That time saved can translate into more attention paid to higher organizational priorities. Instead of barely keeping up with staffing, the staffing office can get ahead of the curve.
Ultimately, having a robust pool of experienced and qualified candidates helps health groups to create strategies that will successfully match their staffing resources to their staffing needs. But the only way to maximize the use of your labor pool is to build it up, leverage it to its fullest, and translate it into an updated and up-leveled strategy. Early adopters of the technology enabled freelance economy can realize millions in savings while having a more engaged workforce in need of a new flexible employment model.