How better scheduling can increase nursing productivity

Outdated nursing scheduling methods fail to incorporate the full complexity of the myriad factors involved.

Poor scheduling for nursing staff contributes to workplace stressors, which create an environment that lessens productivity and increases the potential for inadequate patient care. Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations, hospital systems and medical staffing agencies aren't utilizing the best tools for effective nurse scheduling.

A recent study noted that "32 percent of night workers and 26 percent of rotating shift workers experienced long-term insomnia and excessive sleepiness, and were unable to adapt their sleep adequately on these shifts." This affects nurses' ability to perform work safely and effectively, which lowers overall productivity. With better scheduling capabilities, hospitals and healthcare organizations can alleviate the problems associated with inefficient scheduling.

An increasingly stressful work environment

"An older and shrinking workforce is creating on-the-job stressors for nurses."

A variety of both internal and external elements have converged to create a perfect storm for scheduling nursing staff. At an organizational level, downsizing pressures, alternative employment arrangements (such as pools and traveling staff) and the drive for faster patient turnaround times have escalated workplace stressors for nurses. Meanwhile, external circumstances, such as an aging population, an older and shrinking workforce and a growing number of complex technological innovations are also creating additional stressors.

Not only are these internal and external factors causing more on-the-job stress for nurses, they are also making scheduling more complicated. For instance, according to the study, there are several components managers need to address when creating schedules, including:

  • Time of shift.
  • Direction and speed of rotation.
  • Patterns of days off.
  • Shift length.
  • Rest breaks.

Each of these factors plays a crucial role in determining ideal nurse scheduling. However, when these five aspects are taken into account for the entire workforce, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to adequately balance everything and craft a schedule that's favorable for everyone.

The long-term impact on staff and patients

While it might seem that poor scheduling merely creates some annoyance among nursing staff, the problems go much deeper than that. A lack of balance between night shifts, extended hours on the job and working at unusual times can disturb circadian rhythms, which detrimentally affects sleep and family and social life. What's worse, long-term exposure to inconsistently timed shift work may exacerbate preexisting chronic conditions, including:

  • Unstable angina.
  • Hypertension.
  • Asthma.
  • Substance abuse.
  • GI diseases.
  • Insulin-dependent diabetes.
  • Psychiatric illnesses.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Epilepsy requiring medication.

Not only does poor scheduling impact the health of nurses, it also leads to lower productivity and the potential to adversely impact patient care. As the healthcare industry continues to focus on improving care quality and boosting margins, it's crucial that organizations optimize staff schedules to adequately and effectively utilize their workforce.

How medical staffing software can help

As noted above, there are many different factors managers need to weigh when drafting nursing schedules. Relying on outdated pen-and-paper or spreadsheeting methods simply won't do the trick.

Healthcare organizations, hospital systems and medical staffing agencies should consider implementing a robust medical staffing software system to alleviate the complexity involved in nurse scheduling and craft more favorable shifts. By placing a greater emphasis on creating a better work-life balance, which can ultimately improve both nursing productivity but also lead to better patient care outcomes in the long term. 

Click here to learn more about how BlueSky Medical Staffing Software helps with nursing scheduling.