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Flexible Staffing in Healthcare: How Utilizing an MSP Can Simplify the Contingent Healthcare Staffing Process

Written by , Healthcare Workforce Trends
March 26, 2024

Staffing shortages have transformed the healthcare landscape into one that has to rely on more than traditional staffing models. 

The growing reliance on alternative staffing solutions has presented a situation where the traditional staffing model is insufficient in the current healthcare climate. 

Flexible staffing models have emerged and evolved to handle how care is provided to patients during staffing droughts, but what is flexible staffing in healthcare?

In this article, we will define flexible staffing, review four flexible staffing models while examining their benefits and drawbacks, and explain how MSPs are the most optimal solution to staffing problems that create harsh staffing environments. 

 

Table of Contents

 

What Is Flexible Staffing in Healthcare?

Flexible staffing in healthcare is the practice of supporting permanent facility staff with a blend of alternative workforce solutions. These solutions allow facilities to adapt to their staffing needs and demands by leveraging a mix of resources, workers, and delivery care models. 

The healthcare industry relies on the flexible staffing model to supplement staff workers while providing adequate care during predictable and unpredictable staffing challenges. 

The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated systemic weaknesses in the healthcare industry that further exacerbated the staffing shortage. High workloads and a lack of support led to unprecedented levels of burnout and turnover, forcing the hand of the healthcare industry to implement flexible staffing solutions such as:

  • Telehealth and remote care
  • Automation and AI 
  • Contingent workers
  • Team-based approaches

While components of the flexible staffing model may seem like a symptomatic solution, these approaches are continually evolving to address obstacles involving:

  • Quality care, safety, and compliance standards
  • Continuity of care
  • Positive teamwork and communication among staff

 

Common Reasons Healthcare Facilities Need Flexible Staffing Solutions

Shared motivators of flexible staffing needs include: 

  • Seasonal patient surges – Seasonal disease outbreaks (i.e. flu season), popular seasons for elective surgeries (winter), and holidays are all associated with increased patient influx. These events cause healthcare establishments to rely on flexible staffing to meet patient needs and safety standards. 
  • Unplanned absenteeism – This would include events that create sudden gaps in the staffing schedule, such as call-outs, terminations, resignations, or walk-outs.
  • Planned absences – Vacations, maternity/paternity leave, resignations, and retirements are necessary benefits of the healthcare workforce. By implementing a flexible staffing approach, facilities can allow permanent staff to have planned absences while not burdening present staff. 
  • Increasing service lines – Onboarding and orienting new staff can consume time and resources. Supplementing permanent staff with flexible workforce solutions allows administrators and staff trainers to employ new or increasing service lines without detracting resources from their current workload. 
  • Patient surge events – Pandemics, large mass casualty situations, natural disasters, and other events all initiate the need for surge capacity protocol, which may consist of flexible staffing solutions. 

Flexible staffing solutions are easily scalable. By utilizing contingent staffing data, healthcare leaders can track and implement flexible staffing approaches when and where they are needed most. 

Healthcare managed service providers (MSPs), like Trusted Managed Services can help facilities track, manage, and navigate contingent staffing solutions to handle common issues that require flexible staffing solutions. 

 

what is flexible staffing in healthcare

 

Benefits of Utilizing a Flexible Staffing Model

 

Reduces Labor Costs

Flexible staffing solutions help reduce expenditures while meeting various patient needs. By creating short-term value flexibility, flexible staffing solutions can reduce labor costs by: 

  • Adjusting to variable staffing needs – Flexible staffing allows facilities to hire more workers to meet seasonal or occasional demands, saving resources that would have been used to hire unnecessary full-time employees. 
  • Utilizing cost-effective coverage – Hiring permanent staff involves providing costly employee benefits. Contingent workforce solutions do not require facilities to devote these resources (such as hourly wages, benefits, and payroll taxes) to temporary employees.
  • Decreasing permanent staff turnover – Staffing issues caused by labor shortages and other events increase the burden on permanent staff, which may lead to elevated levels of burnout and stress. The average hospital loses roughly 8.5 million a year in turnover-related costs. Flexible staffing solutions free permanent staff of these encumbrances that may lead to costly turnovers. 
  • Lowering overtime costs – By strategically scheduling contingent staff during surges and absences, healthcare establishments can mitigate overtime costs that would otherwise arise from relying solely on permanent staff to meet increased demand.
  • Accessing specialized expertise from a diverse talent pool – Instead of hiring more specialized permanent staff for seasonal facility demands, administrators can utilize specialized contingent workers to address staffing demands. For example, facilities may hire more temporary med-surg nurses to aid the increase of elective surgeries in winter months. Rather than expensing costs to hire full-time med-surg nurses, these facilities can reduce costs by relying on temporary staff. 

 

Supports Full-Time Employees

A 2022 McKinsey survey explored why healthcare providers were leaving the industry and what changes may make them more likely to stay. One of the most reported drivers for leaving was lack of support. 

The survey also found that more respite in the form of added breaks, reduced patient load, additional support staff, and increased vacation availability would deter them from leaving. Other influential factors included:

  • Safety 
  • Flexibility (work-life balance) 
  • Environment (for example, a work culture that prioritizes teamwork and support)

High turnover rates may negatively impact a facility’s financial performance. A 2002 study found that the average cost of turnover is roughly $46,100 per nurse. Turnover caused by lack of support does not just cost a facility money due to hiring/onboarding new permanent staff. Research suggests that high staff turnover and inefficient staffing may also lead to poorer patient outcomes and higher mortality rates. 

Flexible staffing solutions deter negative turnover-related consequences by providing staff with adequate support and managed patient-to-staff ratios. Contingent staffing solutions may also allow administrators to be more flexible with scheduling requests, enriching permanent staff’s work-life balance and strengthening the relationship between management and staff. 

 

Allows More Access To Specialized Skills

Contingent staff are a skilled subset of the healthcare workforce who have extensive experience. Roughly 59% of travel nurses are over the age of 40, 28% are 30 to 40 years old, and only 14% are under the age of 30. 

The contingent staffing approach utilizes a wide array of talent to fulfill a healthcare establishment’s individualized needs. According to data, the following specialties are in the highest demand:

  • Med-surg – 17% demand
  • Emergency – 8% demand
  • Step-down – 7% demand
  • Med-surg/telemetry – 6% demand
  • Medical ICU – 5% demand
  • Telemetry – 5% demand
  • Operating room – 5% demand
  • Labor and delivery – 2% demand
  • Rehabilitation – 2% demand
  • Psychiatry – 2% demand

Travel nurses also come from diverse backgrounds that enhance their utility. For example, over half of all travel nurses (65.9%) speak Spanish. 

The flexible staffing model allows you to fish from a large talent pool to find solutions for your facility’s unique staffing needs. 

 

flexible staffing in healthcare

 

 

4 Methods of Flexible Staffing in Healthcare

 

#1: Contingency Workers

Contingent nurses make up roughly 30% of an establishment’s workforce. Contingent workers help supplement permanent staff whenever needed. 

A contingent-based flexible staffing approach includes employing:

  • Travel workers
  • Per-diem staff
  • Temporary staff
  • Contract workers

This type of model utilizes staff on an at-need basis to: 

  • Cut costs 
  • Avoid understaffing
  • Address staffing issues 
  • Accelerate onboarding processes
  • Improve workplace culture
  • Increase access to care
  • And more

Self-managing your facility’s contingent population may have its challenges. Most organizations that use their administrators to source, onboard, and facilitate contingent staff tend to overestimate the immediate gains while underestimating long-term hurdles. 

Your internal team will also need extensive expertise in:

  • Supplier performance management
  • Contingent contract management
  • Compliance regulations
  • Supplier optimization
  • VMS data interpretation
  • And other procurement and governance processes associated with the contingent workforce. 

Healthcare managed service providers (MSPs) use their industry knowledge and competence to help organizations navigate contingent workforce complexities. With MSPs like Managed Service Providers, you can alleviate administrative burdens while we effectively procure, source, and manage your contingent workforce. 

 

#2: Telehealth and Remote Care

Telehealth and remote care provide a flexible staffing solution that handles an increased patient load without diverting too many resources. This approach utilizes remote caregiver visits and management models to provide care. 

While remote care is an effective way for facilities to manage a patient load with fewer caregivers, it may pose challenges. 

Some critics argue that telehealth and remote care may disrupt patient care quality and continuity of care. Barriers such as a lack of a complete care history and a physical examination may cause healthcare providers to miss potential health issues, resulting in poor patient outcomes and decreased patient confidence in the healthcare system.

The most costly risk factor of telehealth and remote care may be associated with privacy and security concerns that include: 

  • Environmental factors such as(lack of a private space for caregivers/patients, patient reluctance to share personal health information remotely
  • Technology factors such as limited internet access, increased risks for HIPAA compliance
  • Operational factors like reimbursement complications, payer denials, and need for extensive, ongoing caregiver training and education

Data breaches increased 153% from 2022 to 2023, with over 133 million health records being breached and an average of 373,788 unintentional file disclosures occurring daily. The average cost of a 2023 data breach across all healthcare facilities was around $10.9 million per large-scale facility breach. 

Some experts speculate that the advent of telehealth and remote care services may expose facilities to even more risk if the proper steps are not taken to ensure patient data security. 

 

#3: Automation and AI

According to developers, automation and AI have the potential to leverage machine learning and data analytics to identify, evaluate, and hire the best candidates while improving diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

While AI will not replace clinical or administrative workers, in the future it may be a valuable tool that helps speed up processes like interviewing, screening, and credentialing. This may potentially divert costs, time, and resource burdens from the hiring process. 

However, there are ethical concerns over the potential racial and gender bias of healthcare AI. Regulatory measures may also need to be addressed to ensure AI is properly following HIPAA and compliance protocols to the most emphasized level. 

The future application of AI and automation may improve the flexible staffing landscape, however, its current applications may need to be scrutinized for further review. 

 

#4: Team-Based Approach

Team-based care is a delivery model where healthcare professionals across disciplines provide patient-centered care and address needs through coordinated efforts. 

This may involve internal float departments that are dedicated to addressing variable staffing shortages across multiple departments or floating nurses based on rotation to and from other departments. 

A team-based approach prioritizes communication, delegation, and collaboration to improve efficiency, productivity, and positive patient outcomes in the face of staffing challenges. 

The team-based flexible staffing model may create friction and frustration when leaders emphasize ‘teamwork’ over support to reduce added costs. The average float pool has a turnover rate of 40% and 44% of nurses express dissatisfaction with having to float away from their usual department involuntarily. 

 

what is flexible staffing in healthcare

 

Utilizing Technology To Enable a Flexible Staffing Model

Certain flexible staffing approaches have their specific uses and limitations. 

For example, telehealth and remote care have obstacles and do not extend to all areas of healthcare (such as hospitals or specialized facilities). AI in healthcare may have limited potential applications outside of automating minor administrative tasks. 

Even then, industry leaders do not yet know exactly what that will look like or how compliance regulations will be regarded. The team-based approach, which typically relies on floating permanent staff, may cause staffing complications that might lead to burnout and high turnover. 

So, what technology-based approach can help reduce labor costs, strengthen employee resilience, and support staff employees — all while allowing access to a specialized pool of talent? 

Healthcare managed service providers are an excellent way for facilities to access the benefits of flexible staffing while maintaining financial performance, quality care, and compliance regulations. 

Healthcare managed services providers (MSP) and vendor management systems (VMS) help establishments manage and employ contingent staff. Where a VMS is a tool that allows administrators and leaders to monitor their contingent staffing approach, a healthcare MSP, like Trusted Managed Services, relieves the burden by streamlining the contingent staffing process. 

Trusted Managed Services allows facilities to implement a VMS (Magnit) along with a specialized contingent staffing account manager to traverse contingent staffing demands. Our services help relieve the burden of a facility’s administrators by overseeing the sourcing, onboarding, management, and payroll of contingent employees at no cost to the facility. 

 

Trusted Managed Services: An Innovative Solution for Optimal Staffing and Patient-Based Outcomes

Before the pandemic, team-based flexible staffing approaches and contingent labor were considered temporary fixes to support staffing numbers while administrators fished for permanent staff. The issues unveiled by the advent of the pandemic made it glaringly apparent that these approaches may no longer be quick fixes but rather solution-based approaches that can be used in conjunction with permanent staffing. 

Contingent staffing may create support beams that stave off the negative consequences of staffing dilemmas, but MSPs provide the infrastructure that allows this approach to operate efficiently. 

Some healthcare leaders may want to rely less on the contingent workforce to address full-time staffing issues. At Trusted Managed Services, we understand that. 

Our goal is to remove the burden of staffing challenges across every level of the healthcare industry. 

While your Trusted Managed Service account manager helps your facility access top talent from the contingent work pool, your administrators can devote resources to replenishing your permanent staffing levels. While your permanent staff works hard, the contingent staff accessed by our services works alongside them as support. While your facility leaders make important staffing decisions, our industry insights allow you to maximize your resources with invaluable data. 

The ongoing staffing shortage has created an unpredictable landscape that may lead to a rocky future for the healthcare industry. To get through it, you’ll want to navigate staffing challenges with an MSP you can trust. 

Trusted Managed Services invites you to walk alongside us as we maneuver these challenges together. Request a demo today. 

 

what is flexible staffing in healthcare

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