Tech and data drive transformation at healthcare staffing agencies

September 7, 2022 Qualivis Staff

Leaders from five healthcare staffing agencies spoke at Qualivis’ annual Roundtable conference. They outlined the challenges each has faced over the past two years and their remarkable innovation during the pandemic. Adopting new technologies and a data-driven approach helped each scale operations to meet the overwhelming demand. They also explored solutions for healthcare staffing that will persist long after the pandemic.

Digital platforms enable scalable solutions

National demand for travel nurses increased by more than five-fold during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic requiring new operational strategies and technology that could scale with the increased job volume.

“All of us have had to pivot, we’ve had to adapt, we’ve had to be flexible,” said Kris Knudson, director of strategic partnerships at Triage.

The firm provides a digital wallet for travelers to store their credentials. It enables them to easily keep track of their documents without having to haul paperwork with them from assignment to assignment or potentially having to retest. 

“So it’s really nice for the hospitals; it’s really nice for the healthcare professionals,” she said.

At Aya Healthcare, the biggest technological advances came just before the pandemic when the company launched its marketplace, a prescient move as it turned out.

“With the launch of that digital platform, we were able to get massive engagement,” said Sophia Morris, Aya’s executive vice president of client fulfillment & strategy teams. She credits the scale to the efficiencies of the Aya platform.

StaffDNA launched during the pandemic and also leaned into pricing transparency through its digital platform, which enables candidates to submit themselves for a job and receive offers at all hours.

“We wanted to flip the script, in terms of the way that things operate,” said Imran Chaudhry, VP of Strategic Development at StaffDNA. “We’re not operating at our speed; we’re operating at your speed,” Chaudhry said.

Improved processes are here to stay

During the pandemic, staffing agencies offered multiple options to drive fulfillment, such as truncated compliance, auto offers and guaranteed assignments. Most are here to stay, say staffing agency leaders.

Chaudhry said guaranteed hours for contractors, especially during COVID, were especially important.

“When you’re expected to get up, be on assignment next week with the ability to know that, ‘Hey, my job is going to be safe. I’m going to get my hours. I’m not going to have to struggle while I’m taking care of a community’s patients,’ That’s super important,” he said.

Expanding service lines support clients in new ways

Outside of traditional healthcare staffing, agencies built out additional workforce solutions to support their clients.

At Aya, the focus expanded to locum tenens as well as local per diem staffing.

“That’s been a huge area where we’ve been really hearing our hospitals are wanting to be able to take local staff. The clinicians want the flexibility to be able to work on a contract assignment, maybe not have to go perm, but they want to be close to home,” Morris said.

“Helping find that local staff is certainly something that we’re working towards – expanding our markets in those areas and aggregating the clinicians in the same manner that we have done with our travel staff.”

TotalMed focused its efforts on strengthening its clinical team, which has proven to be an important resource during the pandemic not only for nurses but also to provide valuable feedback to clients. It’s a “well-rounded, all-encompassing service we’ve been trying to revamp,” said Erin Jacobs, director of strategic accounts at TotalMed.

Data improves operational efficiency

Healthcare staffing agencies have strengthened the data they have and incorporated it into their operations to improve efficiency.

StaffDNA’s app enables clients to see where people are applying for jobs and begin to formulate an answer to why they are applying.

“Next thing you know, you start having these cerebral conversations and looking at all the data saying, ‘Hey, what can I use this for to educate my MSP, to educate my client in terms of what’s happening in the market?’” Chaudry said.

At Aya Healthcare, the digital platform provides data that didn’t exist before. “We’re seeing nurses clicking hundreds of thousands of ‘interested’ clicks per month, looking at millions of jobs. Yes, millions of jobs per month,” Morris said.

The company is able to track those clicks and drill down into individual facilities and jobs.

“If you’re not getting any clicks, is it because it’s not on par with the market? It’s really helped us to make pricing recommendations based off the data that we’ve conglomerated from our platform,” she said.

Healthcare staffing agencies increase mental health support for clinicians

The pandemic exacerbated existing burnout and mental health trauma among travel medical personnel. And that trauma extended to their recruiters who were fielding calls.

“We have really, really delved into giving [our clinical] team the resources it needs to support our clinical staff, and not only just from a nursing perspective, like on the front lines, but helping our recruiters with those difficult conversations,” said Jacobs.

“Because, as we all know, those recruiters are the first line. They’re their lifeline while they’re on that assignment. And coaching them through those conversations – knowing when to escalate issues and things like that – that’s an important part that our clinical team has focused on.”

Chaudhry said StaffDNA trains the candidate care team recruiters using role play of what they could face when their travelers on assignment call while experiencing high-trauma situations.

“A clinical person that’s in the office might have a different understanding of what’s going on in the field,” he said. Educating them on frontline conditions enables more fruitful conversations with candidates. And the candidates feel like you care, Chaudry said.

Handling challenges in travel nursing assignments

Morris said having an engaged clinical team creates a space for nurses to feel safe to go when they’re experiencing these issues. This has proven valuable for the nurses and for nurse managers if they have an issue with someone that’s on assignment.

“We’re in a shortage as we all agree, right? So, the worst thing in my mind that can happen is that there’s a behavior that’s coachable, but we don’t know about it until it’s too late and a client is calling us saying, ‘This person’s canceled,’” she said. “We’re like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. We didn’t even know something was wrong. Hold on.’”

Being able to have clinical leaders interface with nursing leaders and having clinical leaders on site at the client level help reduce issues on the front end. Or if they occur during the assignment, the agency is able to work through it, saving assignments rather than having to go back to the drawing board. Open communication is absolutely instrumental, she said.

Is travel nursing here to stay?

After their assignments, some clinicians continue traveling. Others accept permanent positions. Others retire from the profession altogether.

Jacobs said that for the most part, the veteran travelers – those who were travelers before the pandemic – are continuing to travel even as rates deescalate.

Melissa Nicholson, vice president of client services for Emerald Health Services said many travelers left permanent jobs during the pandemic because they wanted to be a part of the solution. “They wanted to do something meaningful. And so now that things are shifting and normalizing a bit, I think they’re reevaluating. And I know a lot of health systems out there are also making a big push to bring on additional perm staff right now and offering some pretty powerful incentives.”

Looking ahead to healthcare staffing beyond 2022

In the coming season, staffing agencies will prioritize growing service lines, managing costs and improving opportunities for clinicians.

Nicholson said Emerald will continue to grow its allied and interim leadership divisions. “We know the demand is there. That’s where we’re really investing a lot of resources to ensure that we can step up and provide the support that’s needed,” she said.

Knudsen said Triage is focused on managing costs for facilities while continuing to provide exceptional talent. We’re coming down off of these high rates,” she said. “And where is this new normal going to land?”

At TotalMed, the focus is shifting toward training, developing and bettering processes that had served as a temporary solution, Jacobs said. “We had to unfortunately do band-aid solutions. So really evaluating some of those things, getting them better, working with our teams to be more of a powerhouse within the industry and strengthen them.”

Chaudhry says StaffDNA still has its sights on being the platform that has an opportunity for every type of healthcare worker in every type of healthcare setting. “The goal for us is to make sure that we’re taking care of every candidate so that they do not leave the healthcare field, whether that’s travel, whether that’s local, whether that’s per diem, whether that’s direct hire.”

Morris said Aya Healthcare continues to focus on business science, creating great data for its clients and improving its tech capabilities.

“But what I really take away from this today is that we are in the business of caring,” she said. “And it’s not a job, it’s our purpose and it’s our why.”

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