Strengthening the
Health Care Workforce


Strategies for Now, Near and Far

Section 2  |  Data and Technology to Support the Workforce

Data and Analytics

Data is not the first thing one thinks of when addressing workforce issues, but data can identify trends, measure engagement and inform decisions about where resources are needed, how your organization compares to others, and determine if you are making progress. As you engage with your internal data, it also is important to understand overall economic trends in your local community, region and nationally that could impact your workforce.

As discussed in Chapter 1, the issue of burnout is of particular importance in the health care field. It is critical for hospitals and health systems to address burnout from a system-wide level to better care for the health care workers who care for our communities. Have you performed an assessment of your own employees’ sentiments? This data will help you identify your organization’s specific problem areas and strengths. If you do not measure, you cannot address the issues that matter. The AHA will launch this fall a Voice of the Workforce survey, which you can use for your own organization(s); look for an announcement.

In addition to using data to assess the situation and support decisions for making change, it is extremely important to record data before and after implementation of any new workforce strategy. The identification and collection of key performance indicators (KPIs) will be critical to assess the effectiveness of your workforce strategies and will enable the team to determine the value and/or return on investment to inform future decisions.

Recent literature offers many interesting and helpful articles on recent health care workforce initiatives. Here are two good articles that address the financial and non-financial incentives health care employers are using. The AHA Resource Center can assist members with literature searches.

icon of hand holding two takeaway tote bags bearing lightbulbs to indicate ideas

Top Takeaways for CEOs

1 Identify the workforce issues your organization is experiencing. Once you have identified the issues, you can identify the data you need to collect and track to assess the magnitude of the problem and the direction of your progress.

2 Appoint an accountable leader within the executive team to lead a centralized, coordinated and ongoing data collection and reporting effort.

3 Set aside resources, including executive time and energy to implement this data strategy.

  • Data is a team effort. No doubt there are pockets of critical information across the organization that, when compiled, will provide important insights. From your organization’s internal human resources records you can look at:

    • Data on employee retention rates and recent departures. Consider stratifying by title, age, tenure, etc.
    • Data on days to fill certain positions, coupled with data from the field will help focus your recruitment and retention efforts.
    • Also consider identifying internal process efficiency metrics, particularly in a competitive environment. For example, measuring time an application is received, to the time it gets to the hiring manager, to time to interview, to time to job offer can all provide insights into process improvements.
    • Trends in sick days and call-outs to identify potential problem areas. Similarly, look for instances where vacation time is not being taken — this could be an indication of potential burnout.
    • Changes in span of control for your leaders and managers; are they taking on more or less responsibility and is this acceptable?

    Additional internal data resources are your average daily patient census, quality measures and financial records to assess and refine your staffing estimates and opportunities. If you do not have recent survey data from your employees, seek out anecdotal data from your management teams. Utilize the information you have collected on the well-being of your clinical and professional teams to pinpoint high-stress service areas. Identify the nonfinancial motivators for job satisfaction in your organization — which may vary by service area.

    Once you have a clear understanding of your workforce measures and what you think you need to solve, look for data on trends external to your organization, both in the health care workforce, but also in the community regarding health needs, birth rates, disease prevalence, housing status, etc.

    The data you compile will inform and support your workforce strategy and comprise your KPIs. Remember you won’t know how effective you are unless you measure progress. Establish your KPIs based on what you expect to achieve, but don’t collect data that you will not need, that creates work for the team and discourages continuation of effort (if the data are collected and not used).

    • Determine what you want to measure in order to assess the current landscape and identify your organization’s needs. Base your determination on what you think you know but need to prove.
    • Assess commitment and resources available at the executive level and assign an executive team lead to manage the ongoing work with accountability back to the leadership team.
    • Inventory your internal data assets. Identify additional data needs, based upon your organization’s actual or perceived issues, then ascertain how they can be met. Identify external data sources for understanding the current state of the workforce and needs for the community. Questions to ask of this data include:
      • What are the trends by age group, race and ethnicity, salary range, education level and tenure?
      • How do the overall trends compare to what is happening in my organization?
      • Which employees or groups of employees are most at risk for resigning/retiring?
    • One important source of data is current position postings. This data will help you assess the demand for the same positions you need to fill. When there is significant demand, employers will need to differentiate themselves in order to attract top candidates. Salary and benefits are always most important, but other, nonfinancial benefits are playing an increasingly important role in attracting and retaining the best employees.
    • Develop a summary/dashboard of critical workforce metrics and assign responsibility for updates and revisions to one, central resource. The dashboard should be user-friendly so it can be shared at the executive and board levels and presented at every workforce strategy meeting.
    • Set some benchmarks or goals for acceptable levels of turnover, sick time, vacation use, etc.
    • Set KPIs for evaluating workforce initiatives. If you want to be able to compare your organization to others, you will need to use standardized metrics that will be comparable to those in the field. However, if you are only concerned with measuring progress against the organization’s own history, you have more freedom to create a customized metric that meets your specific business need.
    • Establish a forum for collecting employee feedback about non-financial motivators on a regular basis.
      • DATA
        Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on national trends and benchmarks:
        • BLS Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Profiles:
          29-0000 - Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations and
          31-0000 - Healthcare Support Occupations
        • BLS Monthly Labor Review
        • BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey
        • BLS Employer Costs for Employee Compensation (report builder)
    • Using data effectively does not happen overnight. It is important to think about the data you need versus the data you have. If you start with the latter, you may never obtain the information you really seek. Make sure your data collection/reporting supports your workforce strategy and KPIs.
    • Develop a set of hypotheses first; determine what data you need to prove or disprove them; then work with the interdisciplinary teams to pull and compile the right metrics.
    • Assign responsibility for your workforce data program to one, central source to ensure consistency.
    • Make sure that all data collected from internal and external resources are properly sourced and cited. Maintain as much documentation as possible.
    • Assign a data steward to establish and maintain definitions, life cycle and quality standards; and a data custodian to be responsible for updates and revisions. Include this information in your data governance program.
    • It is important that executive/senior leadership is engaged and supportive of the use of data for decisionmaking and invested in the workforce strategy you develop using that data. Without support from the top, you cannot ensure that your data findings will lead to appropriate action and follow-up.
    • Commit resources (people, time and finances) to the collection, curation, reporting and review of data and KPIs. Leadership needs to engage with the data and understand its significance.
    • Employment trends and staffing needs ebb and flow. The data program you establish should be robust enough to evaluate changes in the market as well as changes in your workforce over time.
    • Continued measurement and review of workforce data will provide early warnings of inflection points and help to measure the impacts of specific recruitment and retention efforts.
    • Tracking of community needs will help you anticipate where service line additions or enhancements might be needed.
    • As you compile your workforce data over time, keep track of the surges in COVID-19, as well as other external influences like flu season, economic ups and downs, incidents of violence in the community or in the hospital, etc. The more information you collect on how your workforce reacts to these external factors the better equipped you will be to use predictive analytics to address changing conditions.
        Resources on national trends that may affect the health care labor market:
        • PolicyMap is a publicly available tool that compiles geographic data on over 50,000 indicators encompassing demographics, income and spending, housing, quality of life, economy, education and health.
        • The U.S. Census Bureau conducts annual inter-census surveys.
        • The Centers for Disease Control and its National Center for Health Statistics collect and report data on disease prevalence and vital statistics.
    • Prolucent Health provides technology and services to fill health care workforce vacancies, with a focus on lowering overall costs. Prolucent collects data from across the country, using their proprietary web-scraping algorithms, to keep track of trends in vacancies and time-to-fill positions. The AHA partners with Prolucent to provide quarterly regional reports to the field and access to Prolucent’s Liquid Compass online tool.
    • Syntellis is the former data collection arm of Kaufman Hall. Now an independent company, Syntellis collects monthly data from over 1,000 hospitals nationwide and provides benchmarks for financial, labor, and utilization comparisons in near real time. The AHA partners with Syntellis to provide quarterly financial updates to the field.
    • Kaufman Hall produces quarterly reports on financial trends in hospitals and health systems. The AHA partners with Kaufman Hall on special issue trend reports and webinars for the membership.