How hospitals can plan their workforce for the future

The health care workforce influences nearly every aspect of providing high-quality care. Without an adequate and appropriately trained cadre of health professionals, hospitals will encounter difficulties meeting challenges and opportunities in our rapidly changing field. These challenges and opportunities include meeting the needs of an aging population, addressing and integrating behavioral health and physical health, and providing the breadth of services our health care environment will demand.

In addition, the workforce is changing dramatically, becoming more diverse and more intergenerational. It is time for health care leaders to think strategically and innovatively — not just operationally — about workforce issues.

Strategic workforce planning

The 2016 American Hospital Association Committee on Performance Improvement recently released the report The Imperative for Strategic Workforce Planning and Development: Challenges and Opportunities. This report describes key components of the health care workforce and the need for aligning workforce planning and development with operations, with examples from the field.

As trustees and executives, we should use workforce planning and development to forecast the care team configuration that will best meet the needs of our patients. By collecting better data and employing new resources to assess our workforce and forecast future needs, our hospitals can use their current workforce more efficiently and create opportunities to retool roles for better health care.

This process includes creating a profile of the current workforce; determining future workforce needs based on the organization’s path to transformation; changing delivery and payment system requirements that affect health professionals; and, ultimately, working to close any gaps found by recruiting, educating and training our health professionals. In this way, our health care organizations not only identify current or future staffing needs but also hone the key strategies, goals and behaviors needed for positive change.

Strategic assessment questions

The following questions can help initiate strategic workforce conversations:

  • How do you currently engage in workforce planning and development?
  • How is workforce planning and development woven into your organization’s overall strategic planning process?
  • What role does your board play in workforce planning?
  • How are you investing in workforce planning? What percentage of your total budget is spent on building workforce capacity?
  • How have you collected data, and how have you assessed and modeled future workforce needs and gaps?
  • Do you actively engage in recruitment and retention efforts?
  • What succession planning processes do you have in place?
  • How does your workforce affect your community’s health? Have you used your community health needs assessment to guide workforce planning and development?
  • Have you partnered with other organizations to bolster educational opportunities or enhance recruitment efforts?
  • How confident are you that your organization will meet its workforce needs in the coming year? In the next three to five years?

More questions and 12 key recommendations for hospitals and health systems are included in the report by the Committee on Performance Improvement.

By strengthening our engagement in workforce planning and development, we can lead our hospitals and health systems in realigning, retraining and redesigning the workforce to improve and maintain the health of our patients and communities.

Kimberly McNally, a member of the American Hospital Association board of trustees, chaired the 2016 AHA Committee on Performance Improvement. She is president of McNally & Associates and is a board member at UW Medicine in Seattle.