How Automation Technology Can Reduce Short Staffing

February 15, 2023 Kimberly Anderson-Mutch

How Automation Technology Can Reduce Short Staffing

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare organizations have been facing a labor shortage, including senior living facilities. A recent survey found that nearly three in five long-term healthcare facilities have had to limit new admissions due to nurse staffing shortages. Out of these respondents, nearly 75% believe they may have to close their facilities as a result of these staffing issues.

Additionally, 98% of providers are struggling to hire staff, and 99% say they're forced to ask remaining staff to pick up extra shifts and work overtime. With this added pressure on nursing staff, many facilities may see a rise in stress, burnout, early retirement, and reduced quality of patient care. Automation technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), can lighten the burden on your overworked staff by streamlining operations—including attendance, payroll, scheduling, and HR—and empowering them to provide better care to your residents.

How Is AI Helping in the Healthcare Industry?

You might wonder how AI can help healthcare, but it already has. AI has made a significant difference in the healthcare industry by improving diagnostics, detecting diseases, and advancing treatment. Now, it's also boosting patient engagement and supporting administrative and operational workflows. 

Improving Scheduling and Staffing

Improving Scheduling and Staffing 

AI technology improves healthcare system workflows by automating many of the time-consuming and labor-intensive processes that make it difficult for providers and staff to spend more time with patients, including clinical documentation and insurance claims. However, the force of AI technology has emphasized healthcare shortages, particularly in nursing. While many facilities struggled with sifting through a mountain of unfilled job postings in the past, they're now turning to technology to address these shortages. 

Machine learning models and AI are streamlining the application process, automizing workflows, and reducing burnout in employees by lightening their workload. By leveraging AI, healthcare facilities can more effectively match with qualified, skilled talent while upholding transparency during the hiring and onboarding process. One of the goals of AI in healthcare is to provide ways to help nurses and other professionals find and stay in the right position that meets their needs. 

Before the rise in AI technology, it's easy to see how many long-term care (LTC) facilities were struggling to tackle staffing shortages while overworking their current staff and using inefficient scheduling processes. Using AI in healthcare provides a long-term solution to the challenges of disengagement, short staffing, and limited budgets. Today, healthcare facilities have the power to automate these processes, improve scheduling, and align talent with growth opportunities. 

Providing Cost Savings 

Automation in hospitals and LTC facilities allows for cost savings by removing the burden of manual labor and empowering managers and HR staff to offer competitive pay and more attractive benefits. As a result of cost-savings, machine learning can also pave the way for increased revenue. AI technology uses data to give healthcare organizations powerful, automated insights that can help influence business decisions, address problems at the source, and improve their overall facility for residents and staff. 

In the last decade, AI has enabled real automation in healthcare organizations, facilitating more effective resource planning, triage, and collaboration by eliminating manual processes of patient and staff management. Organizations now see AI as a modern approach to staffing challenges, including high turnover and early retirement. Since the pandemic, organizations have had to spend more to retain existing staff. Meanwhile, care teams are experiencing intensified burnout.

Even before the pandemic, healthcare workers reported alarming levels of burnout, but these only intensified during the pandemic, and nurses have found little relief. However, as more and more health systems take a new approach by implementing AI-powered software, the manual burden on staff is slowly decreasing. 

Shortage of Healthcare Professionals By the Numbers

As an estimated 1.5 million people lost their healthcare jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic. While many of these jobs have returned, U.S. healthcare employment remains below pre-pandemic levels by approximately 180,000 workers. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing shortage isn't going away anytime soon. The U.S. would need over 200,000 nurses entering the workforce every year for the next three years to fill in the gaps the industry is experiencing. 

By 2030, reports indicate that healthcare facilities will need over 1.2 million nurses to address the current shortage. However, The International Centre on Nurse Migration suggests this number could rise to 13 million nurses if the shortage continues to grow without a solution. While the demand for nurses and other healthcare professionals is certainly at an all-time high, reports predict that states like California, New Jersey, and Texas will have the most severe shortages as they face increased patient demand for care in the coming years.

What's Causing the Staffing Shortage in Healthcare?

Though the pandemic may have created the most significant impact of staff shortages in healthcare, there's no single reason for the mass exodus. Many nurses, among other healthcare professionals, lost their jobs due to layoffs, while others left the profession early due to overwhelming stress. This shortage affects both individual facilities and the importance of healthy, well-managed staffing. Let's explore some contributing factors to the nursing shortage below:

  • Low pay and benefits: Apart from burnout, pay and benefits are the second leading cause of nurses leaving the profession, with 58% of nurses reporting this as their motivating factor to seek a new position. 
  • Aging workforce: The nursing workforce itself is aging, with nearly one million registered nurses (RNs) older than 50 years. This means at least one-third of the current workforce will retire within the next 10 to 15 years, leading to a shortage of experienced nurses.
  •  Aging population: The demographic of people aged 65 and older is the largest it's ever been. This aging population means increased demand for long-term and medical care, which strains the nursing workforce and widens the shortage. 
  • Poor work-life balance: Employees who must work mandatory overtime to make up for a lack of staff often have trouble balancing their work and personal lives, which includes starting a family, finding childcare, and having enough days off to manage their mental and physical health. 
  • Limited supply of nurses: Due to a shortage in nursing educational staff, nursing schools are rejecting thousands of new students looking to become RNs. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing programs turned away nearly 100,000 applicants last year. As older nurses retire, there aren't enough newly graduated healthcare professionals to fill their places.

Effects of Staff Shortages in Healthcare

Short staffing creates a domino effect in long-term healthcare organizations. Here are the top negative effects of short staffing in LTC nursing: 

1. Increased Burnout and Dissatisfaction 

When there aren't enough nurses on staff, employers often force the remaining nurses to pick up overtime. Some facilities even set up mandatory overtime policies, which can impact employees' work-life balance. Soon, nurses begin feeling exhausted, burnt out, and generally unhappy with their jobs. Burnout can lead to severe physical, emotional, and mental health issues, not to mention job dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction can lead to nurses quitting their jobs or retiring early. 

In 2022, nearly 44% of all nurses who planned to leave their jobs cited burnout as the motivating factor. Early retirement in nursing, though, seems to be both a cause and effect of the nursing shortage, as waves of early retiring nurses are outpacing the new entrants to the field. 

2. Increased Medical and Administrative Errors

Think about it—the higher the patient-to-nurse ratio you have, the more work each nurse has to take on during their shift. If your nurses already feel tired from working excessive overtime, the chances of them making mistakes increases. This means they may forget to dispense medication to some residents or give an elderly patient the extra blanket they asked for. A study found that inadequate staffing levels, heavy workloads, and working in haste led to an increase in the risk of patient harm and dose omissions

However, these errors can also extend to the administrative side of the job. Nurses who engage in time-consuming manual processes, in addition to caring for residents in an understaffed facility, would likely make many mistakes when it comes to documentation. 

3. Higher Mortality Rate and Lower Quality Care 

Amid a staffing shortage, nurses may not have enough time in the day to give quality care to every patient. They may also forget to do certain tasks due to fatigue and irritability, meaning some residents may not be receiving the treatment they need. At the end of the day, short staffing certainly impacts your facility, but it also prevents your nurses from making your residents a top priority. 

These preventable mishaps can lead to overall lower quality care and higher mortality rates in your senior living facility. One study found that low nurse staffing correlated with higher odds of mortality by 10%, while other research highlights the association between higher nurse staffing levels and lower patient mortality.

4. Higher Turnover 

One study highlighted that 84% of nurses feel overlooked in their jobs, while 23% say smaller patient-to-nurse ratios would make their jobs better and let them give more time to every patient. As more and more nurses feel undervalued and unappreciated in their position, more facilities may continue to see high turnover and low retention rates without the implementation of an automated solution. High turnover can also lead to increased costs as healthcare facilities train new employees who don't stay on for the long term. 

How to Fix Staffing Shortages in Healthcare

How to Fix Staffing Shortages in Healthcare 

Before the pandemic, there were concerns about using AI in healthcare. Some worried that AI would take their jobs away, while others were skeptical that machine-learning technology could deliver on its promises. However, as staffing shortages in healthcare become more and more apparent, and organizations see how AI works in real time, these concerns may not be as strong as they once were. Now, people see AI as a solution—a way to provide relief to individual facilities that are in a tight spot. 

Leveraging AI lets you make things easier for existing staff. Nurse managers, schedule makers, and administrators can benefit from technology that empowers them to do things faster, reduce human error, and focus on more high-value tasks. For example, consider how long your managers and HR staff spend dealing with scheduling and communication issues. 

Ensuring you have plenty of staff on every shift can be challenging without the right tools and resources. Rather than calling every single staff member to get in touch with them about open shifts, overtime opportunities, approved PTO, and other messages, you can implement AI-powered software that takes care of it for you. With the help of AI, your staff can do more.

Benefits of Healthcare AI Technology

Benefits of Healthcare AI Technology

Working with AI technology can help you effectively run your LTC or assisted living facility. Here are the top advantages of machine learning staffing solutions.

1. Reduces Workload Intensity to Boost Staff and Patient Satisfaction

One of the biggest contributors to burnout is an intense workload that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. Completing tasks manually means your skilled nurses are spending a significant amount of time on low-value tasks that pull them away from direct resident care. Automation through AI reduces this workload intensity by eliminating manual steps and facilitates care coordination, from HR to nurse managers to nursing staff. 

By automating scheduling and communication processes for operational efficiency, every party within your organization benefits. When you enhance the work environment for your staff through AI, you can drive loyalty, decrease turnover, and boost staff and patient satisfaction. 

2. Improves Care

With AI technology, nurses will have more time on their hands to devote to patients and residents. This means they can spend more time carefully dispensing meds, interacting with residents, and taking care of their needs without feeling burnt out. Residents may start to provide more positive feedback and potentially increase your facility's ratings, helping to attract more residents down the line. 

3. Creates More Resident Capacity 

Your LTC or assisted living facility has no purpose without residents. If you struggle to keep a well-managed staff, you may not have the workforce or resources to admit new residents and build your organization's reputation. AI technology creates efficiency improvements that give you the capacity to care for patients. 

With decreased manual workload on all staff members, you can accommodate more residents and grow your facility. Additionally, with improved scheduling processes and mobile optimization, nurses can focus more on caring for residents and less time communicating about schedule changes and unanswered questions. 

4. Saves Time and Money 

Paying staff overtime for months on end can become quite a cost. Eventually, as more and more nurses are seeking competitive pay, these rates may even become more expensive and inconvenient than hiring additional talent to fill in shifts. However, it can be a challenge to find skilled, qualified nurses for LTC facilities. 

It's also time-consuming to hire, train, and onboard new nurses before they can get on the ground and start helping your current staff. AI technology helps you save time and money over time by reducing overtime, streamlining your operations, and reducing labor costs for tasks like scheduling, payroll, and HR functions. 

5. Establishes Fair and Consistent Scheduling 

It's likely that one of the biggest problems your facility faces is filling in staffing gaps. AI-powered software automatically schedules your staff in a fair and productive way that can be challenging for schedule makers to do manually. With machine learning and automation, you can maximize efficiency and do more with less staff, helping you reduce costs and improve care simultaneously. 

Optimized AI-driven scheduling takes the complexities of healthcare scheduling and presents accurate solutions and workforce analytics to develop a consistent and fair schedule for all workers. 

Access AI Staffing Solutions With Smartlinx

Access AI Staffing Solutions With Smartlinx

Working in long-term and senior living healthcare facilities means putting your residents and patients first. By automating your manual processes and lightening the workload for your nursing staff, you can keep your patients a top priority, support your employees' well-being, and reduce burnout and turnover. Using a workforce management solution empowers you to create a more efficient and modern nursing facility. 

Smartlinx technology aims to help organizations like yours invest in your staff and maintain satisfaction within your assisted living or LTC facility. We provide solutions to solve your challenges and equip your team with the right tools to improve patient care and attract more residents, including our:

Smartlinx software makes it possible to hire more staff, streamline scheduling, and keep your nurses happy at your facility. To learn more about our solutions, schedule a demo online or contact us today

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