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Go west until the butter melts…

August 10, 2011

Each summer I take a week and torture my nieces with an ‘educational’ vacation. This year I was able to scoop up two of them – a fifteen year old and an eleven year old for the mandatory fun! Our destination was the historic triangle in Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg, the Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Battlefield.

Though cloaked as a vacation, the ‘lesson plan’ I had constructed, but had not shared with them, included: understanding the challenges of colonial life, appreciating the flora and fauna of a different part of the country, and developing a sense of how the Nation was born and the sacrifices required. Woven throughout this ‘vacation’ were planned lessons in the skills required to travel. Chief among these skills was finding your way in unfamiliar territory. Oh yeah, I bet you can tell I’m just a barrel of fun!

As it turns out, we all had a great time. Though they still aren’t quite sure how anyone could live without texting, they can name all three ships that carried the settlers that founded Jamestown (Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery – in case you were wondering) and they have walked on the once bloodied battlefield at Yorktown where the Revolutionary War ended and Nation was birthed. But most interesting of all they learned, and the thing that will have the most impact on their lives into the future is how to navigate their way.

Unlike the guidance available to the Spanish sailors seeking a path to the Americas – “go west until the butter melts then turn right”, my nieces had access to much more sophisticated information. There was the GPS that got us from the airport to the hotel and the internet provided pre-built itineraries for each day to optimize our time, unlike the sailors that came before us, our success in finding our destination was almost insured by the guidance these tools provided.

By now, you’re probably thinking – nice story, but what could this possibly have to do with the healthcare workforce? Actually, the lesson learned – success in reaching your destination can almost be insured if you use the right tools to guide you – can be easily applied to management of the healthcare workforce. Managers whose only guidance in years past when seeking to staff patient care areas to provide quality care was – “make sure there are enough nurses”, now can have access to management tools that guide them successfully to that destination.

Workforce management technologies available today give detailed guidance in staffing and scheduling that supports proactively planning the right number of staff, with the right skills, are in the right place, at the right time and at the right cost to insure the right outcome. And when the metaphorical wrong turn is taken and the right outcome at the right cost is not achieved, there are now workforce analytic tools available to alert managers to being off course and recommend a course correction just like a GPS. These tools for success in management of the healthcare workforce are available today.

Just as no sailor today would expect to be told – “go west until the butter melts then turn right”, no nurse manager working to provide the exceptional patient care we all want and expect should be told – “make sure there are enough nurses” and not be given access to the tools to guide them to success.

Join me in exchanging perspectives on the healthcare workforce. It’s Time to Care!

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