Keep a Close Eye on Your Staffing to Avoid Shortages

Keep a close eye on your staffing to avoid shortages

A medical practice can end up short-staffed for many reasons — including unexpected illnesses, accidents or family emergencies, maternity leaves, firings, or unexpected resignations.

Chances are, over the length of your practice’s life span, you’ll face a staffing shortage at least once, if not several times. How you deal with it can have a big effect on revenue, workloads, staff morale and quality of patient care. Here are four strategies for dealing with staffing shortages.

Cross-train employees

Not everybody can be cross-trained in a medical practice, but many positions can be. Back-office staff can be trained to temporarily handle front-desk positions, for example. Many practices train every staff member for at least one additional job — and in some cases, two. The best way to approach this is to tell staff up front when you hire them that they should expect cross-training to be part of their employment.

Areas that lend themselves well to cross-training include front desk and billing and collection duties. There are few, if any, downsides to it. Cross-training employees instead of resorting to temp agencies could save a practice thousands of dollars annually.

Turn to temporary staffing

Sometimes cross-training can’t completely resolve the problem. In these cases, bringing in temporary staff is a relatively quick but expensive solution. Temp agencies often cost medical practices 50% more than regular staff — which typically is even more expensive than paying an existing staffer overtime. Another downside, many physicians say, is that a temp employee’s loyalty is to the agency’s contract, not the practice.

That said, many temp staff are highly skilled and flexible and can be a great asset in a tight spot. They also can help keep your permanent staff from becoming burned out while dealing with a temporary staff shortage.

Use float pools

Traditionally, a float pool refers to nurses working in a hospital who may be moved from department to department as required. In the context of a private medical practice, a float pool typically consists of known employees you can draw on during shortages for a limited time.

Often, staffers from the float pool have jobs elsewhere but are interested in extra income. They could be former employees who worked out well, but left the practice for a variety of other reasons. They also could be friends of your current staff or colleagues. Stay in touch with former employees that you liked and, when they leave, ask whether you can call on them in cases of staffing shortages and emergencies.

Be vigilant

This may seem overly simplistic, but it just means that, now that you’re aware of the potential problem, you should watch out for it and have a plan ready. For instance, if an employee is going on maternity leave, you generally know in advance and have plenty of time to prepare. It’s even possible that the employee may be interested in some flexible hours during the leave period.

In addition, if a staffer is exiting your practice, finding out why could generate practical solutions. For instance, are they looking for more flexibility, better pay, a change of scenery — or are there personality issues? If you can work out a solution that satisfies all concerned, you can avoid the ensuing staffing shortage.

A strategic response

Staffing shortages will occur — especially in small to midsize practices. But with careful planning, it’s possible to respond strategically to shortages without putting undue stress on remaining staff while still providing top-level patient care.

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