July 5, 2023

The Harm of Unsafe Staffing Levels

Patient safety and staffing shortages should be the number one concern of every physician and hospital administration. But, could blowing the whistle and complaining about being short staffed get you fired? The answer unfortunately is “Yes!”

A physician blows the whistle on unsafe staffing

An emergency room physician in Missouri complained about unsafe physician to patient staffing ratios at his community hospital. On the night shift, he was scheduled to cover both the pediatric emergency room as well as the adult emergency room. After numerous complaints to his staffing company, they gave him the axe and fired him.

As you can imagine, a physician covering 2 emergency departments on his own would have to have superhuman powers to get the job done. Fortunately, the physician sued the staffing agency that fired him and won a 29 million-dollar settlement.

Safe patient care should not function like McDonald’s

Dr. Mitchell Li, an emergency room physician in Chicago states “the business model used by contract management groups is the same as McDonald’s: use the cheapest labor possible to churn out a mediocre hamburger.” Dr. Li believes that hospital administrators view physician expertise as a line item expense and makes patient safety take a backseat to investor profit.

Safe staffing and scheduling saves lives

A crucial ingredient for safe patient care in a hospital setting is better physician staffing and scheduling. Studies show that when a physician, in house attending intensivist, is staffed 24 hours around the clock in an intensive care unit (ICU) the decision to discontinue mechanical ventilation is usually shortened by 2 days. The same was found to be true when a decision was made to change a do-not-resuscitate code status (DNR).

There’s lots of research data geared towards safe patient staffing ratios focused on nurses.  More research studies needs to be done which is  geared towards physicians and staffing. One study suggests that physician to patient staffing ratios depend on many factors which include patient, hospital and specialty physician characteristics.

Workload, quality care, time and motion studies, complex patient care, service design/skill mix and an increasing frail patient population should all be taken into consideration when staffing. If a hospital or medical facility is understaffed, patients face a higher rate of mortality, higher risk of infection, increased postoperative complications and increased number of falls.

A physicians time is valuable. Safe patient care is imperative!

Intrigma is the leader in safe physician scheduling software. Distributing and tracking workload assignments and identifying staff shortages through fair workload tracking is made easy and manageable. The most complicated schedules can be tamed by just doing the math.

Through Intrigma’s software, schedules can be shared through many different departments. Centralized scheduling manages requests and provider contact information for multiple departments and/or hospital systems. Potential risks in patient safety, like only having one emergency room physician covering 2 emergency departments can be detected with Intrigma software.

Intrigma’s main focus is reducing costs, saving time, and improving staff morale for physicians, medical groups, hospitals and nurses.