What is Productive and Non-Productive Time in Healthcare?

Productive and Non-Productive Time in Healthcare


Hospitals must have essential personnel on-hand seven days a week in order to properly manage routine and emergency patient needs. However, maintaining a deep pool of highly skilled human resources — i.e., physicians, nurses, and other clinician staff — is expensive.

In fact, payroll usually constitutes 50% of a hospital’s budget.
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The cost is quantified by determining the number of physician and/or nursing hours spent per patient day.

For example, 6 physician/nursing hours per day for 100 patient days is 600 hours.

But, as to be expected, not all of those 600 hours are necessarily spent on the patient. Issues such as slow EHR/EMR loading times to waiting on a nurse/physician who’s an expert in a specific area result in idle time.

This means that the actual hours spent with patients is significantly lower than 600. The graph below is an example of actual hours averaging 575 hours versus the required hours of 600. That gap could be ‘idle time’.

productive time

Source: Health Catalyst

This ‘idle time’ is typically categorized as ‘unproductive time’, and is a major issue for hospitals as they try to get the most out of their human resource spending (and control costs).

Productive Time

As noted above, ‘productive time’ is the time that an employee spends treating the patient or on an actual, productive task. For example, taking care of patient needs by conducting bedside blood tests, administering medication, and other essential tasks. Likewise, a clinician may clean your surgical gear, such as your headlights and other instruments.

A significant gap between the required hours and actual hours is a severe problem.

In a healthcare setting, there is a uniquely high demand for emotional labour required of staff. So the risk of stress, depression, burnout, and turnover is notably high. The ‘hours gap’ can exacerbate that and result in other severe productivity issues in your hospital.

More on Supporting the Productivity of Your Hospital Staff:

Non-Productive Time

In healthcare, ‘non-productive time’ includes all paid off-duty hours, such as vacation or holiday days, sick leave, staff development, training on new equipment, and idle time.

Of non-productive time, idle time is of highest concern to hospitals.

In those hours, the clinician isn’t working nor is the patient getting treatment — but the hospital is still incurring a cost for these ‘activities’.

This idle time includes ‘redundant’ activities, such as a clinician waiting on another (who may know more about a specific tool or software) or engaging in “busy work” (tasks that don’t further any goal, or produce any value).


How to Tackle Non-Productive Time

Tackle Non-Productive Time


Research shows that hospital staff spend spend non-productive or idle time on activities that do not add value to the hospital, such as accessing the internet for leisure activities.

With experts reporting an average of 3.5 hours of company time lost per week to smartphone use, even healthcare staff are not immune from the pull of their personal devices.

Management is therefore tasked with preventing such nonproductive moments, which easily add up to hours and, in turn, the hospital’s bottom line.

Just in Time: A Strategy for Optimizing Non-Productive Time

While originally implemented in manufacturing, the well-documented Just in Time management system is increasingly being applied to healthcare to optimize non-productive time.

The Just in Time (JIT) system involves a philosophy of producing what is required, when required, with no excess. In terms of hospitals, this could mean aligning actual hours spent working with hours required as closely as possible.

For example, instead of waiting on another clinician to help with loading an EHR/EMR system — and then pushing the waiting clinician into idle time — that time can be spent on a training video on the EHR/EMR.

Not only does that idle clinician use that time to learn how to use the system (and eventually use it), but in the future, they will not be idle waiting for support on that system. Granted, there is technically idle time in the beginning, but with a training video (instead of Facebook), it’s removed from future scenarios.

Look at Your Tools

You can reduce idle time through training and discouraging non-professional activities. However, you must also pay attention to your hospital’s tools, such as its surgical headlamps. Idle time can also be a result of non-functioning equipment, waiting on fresh supplies, and cleaning time.

BFW helps hospitals and clinics reduce idle time by providing headlamps and headlamp equipment that works without fail in all medical environments. From patient care to maintenance, we reduce hours spent and raise your hospital’s bottom-line. See our product line today.