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How to Develop and Make the Most Out of an IRP

doctor with nurses standing behind her

Internal resource pools (IRP), also referred to as float pools, are a fairly recent development in the healthcare space that were designed by helping organizations become more flexible and efficient in meeting their staffing needs. Different departments work at different paces and have varying needs based on fluctuating patient volume and other external factors. IRPs are a centralized database of part-time, full-time, and contracted staff who are pre-approved to work in various departments and can fill demand on short notice.

In healthcare, efficiency is the name of the game now. Being able to meet specialized needs or unexpected influxes of patient volume is critical to maintaining a standard of care and your organization's reputation. 

Here we'll go over what you need to understand about IRPs, tips on how to develop one, and best practices for maintaining it for long-term success.


Understanding the Use Cases of IRPs

As stated above, IRPs are databases where all staff types are managed — including accolades, experience, certifications, etc. — so that they can fill a facility's needs as soon as they arise. Whether that's for sick leave, sabbaticals, maternity leave, unexpected absences, or any other reason surge staffing may be required. 

IRPs do differ from traditional staffing models. Traditionally, healthcare organizations contract a "master" vendor, who is responsible for filling each facility's needs. However, more recently this model is falling out of favor for many organizations because of the high costs and lower quality of candidates. Generally, a master vendor will only have access to one labor pool and prioritize their own candidates instead of outsourcing them. And because the facility is solely dependent on one organization, this can come at a premium price. IRPs on the other hand allow organizations to cut out that middleman and have quality, proven staff on standby. 

Oftentimes, IRPs are just one part of a more comprehensive vendor management system (VMS) or managed service provider (MSP). So let's take a look at what the overall benefits of a properly functioning IRP are.


Benefits of Developing an IRP


Cost Efficiency

First and foremost, cost efficiency is one of the immediate benefits that healthcare facilities experience upon building an IRP. In a world where everyone is looking to contain contingent labor costs as much as possible, an IRP helps wean facilities off of all-too-common overreliance on external staffing agencies. Additional cost cutting comes in the form of better resource management.


Increased Staff Flexibility and Satisfaction

A flexible workforce is a happy workforce. Healthcare facilities have to strike a delicate balance: Showing their employees that they value their overall wellbeing while also ensuring their workforce is covering their bases as much as possible — all in the face of industry-wide staffing shortages. One of the best ways to show staff that you value their physical and mental health is through flexible scheduling models, though this is often easier said than done when they're already spread thin. 

However, IRPs, especially when combined with MSPs and a VMS, can improve internal scheduling flexibility. Managers can broadcast openings to a database of qualified clinicians who then submit interest and get approved for the job with the click of a button. This not only makes it easy on the organization, but it allows staff to choose when and where they work based on availability, giving them more autonomy in their positions.


Improved Patient Care

With the improved flexibility come faster response times for patient needs as well as consistent care quality with familiar staff, something invaluable toward patient care and satisfaction.


Developing an IRP

Actually starting your IRP may sound like a heavy lift, but with the help of experienced contingent labor experts, it will be a breeze! Let's take a look at the big picture steps they'll help you take in order to develop an effective IRP:


Assessment of Needs

Before you begin, you'll have to conduct a thorough analysis of overall staffing needs and patterns within each of your facility's departments. This will take into account utilization rates, turnover rates, flexibility needs, and more based on region, time of day, day of the week, and month of the year. No two health systems are exactly alike, so ensuring your data is as bespoke as possible will help you develop an IRP that works for your needs and your needs only.


Developing a Strategy

Once you more intimately understand the ebbs and flows of your workforce, as well as when and where your contingent labor needs are, it's time to develop a strategy. Set clear goals for the IRP — what you are hoping to get out of it, any KPIs you can monitor to ensure that goal is being met, and any policies/procedures that need to be taken into account.


Recruitment and Training

Next, you'll need to start the recruiting process to find suitable candidates for the IRP. This is why an MSP can be so useful in building an IRP — it will help you access a wider talent pool, help you manage labor contracts, assist with onboarding and compliance, as well as provide business intelligence insights to keep you on the right track.

Additionally, they can help you tap into ongoing training and professional development opportunities that not only strengthen your workforce's baseline skill set, but keep them happy and fulfilled in their duties. 


Post-Launch Monitoring

Once your IRP is developed and eventually launched, it's important not to lose sight of those goals you set in the beginning. Keeping those KPIs in mind and periodically revisiting reporting metrics is critical toward completing your objectives. And don't be afraid to adjust strategies. If something isn't working the way you thought it would, enlist the help of an MSP or advisory service to help you identify pain points and right the ship accordingly.


Best Practices for Managing an IRP


Technology is Your Best Friend

Data is the most valuable asset of any given workforce management strategy. Metrics such as market rates, utilization rates, workflows, vendor performance, assignment reports, and more can be accessed in just a few clicks when you use VMS technology. These real-time updates and data analytics help you stay on track toward your KPIs.

Additionally, an IRP platform reduces the time it takes to fill positions by broadcasting them to a database via mobile app, text, VOIP, and email. IRP staff then submit their interest, and the department manager can quickly choose from the available, pre-screened clinicians. HWL's app, for instance, allows workers to view and select open positions with the click of a button.


Communication is Key

Ongoing communication both within IRP teams and external departments is also critical to the success of any IRP program. This helps you coordinate resource management, adapt to changing needs, creates higher levels of transparency and trust, improves overall staff retention rates, and helps maintain safety and compliance.


HWL Works to Improve Your IRP Strategy

With so many staffing woes affecting healthcare organizations big and small, IRPs are quickly going from a nice-to-have to a must-have in order to become more efficient and cost effective. Flexible labor is now an imperative to mitigate the rising costs of doing business with agencies. Meanwhile, technology advancements have made it possible to connect with IRP staff directly and manage the process end-to-end.

HWL provides a suite of healthcare workforce solutions — MSP, VMS, IRP, advisory services, and much much more. Get in touch today to find out how you can start containing contingent labor costs!

June 07, 2024/By Amanda Wheeler, RN, BSN, MBA
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Author: Amanda Wheeler, RN, BSN, MBA

Amanda brings a wealth of experience in hospital workforce management, having played a key role in developing and implementing an Internal Resource Pool for WellStar Health System and Emory Healthcare. In addition, she has been a crucial stakeholder in managing contingent labor/MSP programs, standardizing and centralizing VMS, MSP, and internal staffing & scheduling solutions, and working closely with HR and Nursing leaders. Amanda is a member of several nursing associations, including Nursing & Healthcare Associations, and is Six Sigma Yellow Belt certified.
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