Nurses on demand

ShiftWise used the nationwide shortage of skilled caregivers to create a fast-growing business.

By Jeanette Borzo, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Soon after Jason Landers started selling temporary nursing services to understaffed hospitals, he began hearing the complaints: The paperwork involved in scheduling nursing temps was driving his customers crazy.

"Sales 101 tells you to find the pain point and fix it," Lander remembers thinking. So he sketched out an online system that hospitals could use to fill nursing shifts as easily as travelers book hotel stays. He knew that his idea was solid when the administrators at all five of the Seattle hospitals he toured said that if he built the system, they would try it.

Lander quit his day job and used $6 million in funding to start ShiftWise in 2003. His timing was perfect: U.S. demand for nurses outstripped supply by 6 percent in 2000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and the shortfall is expected to double by 2010. That means more open shifts, more complicated forms -- and more business for ShiftWise. Lander says the revenue from his more than 350 customers was almost $8.5 million in 2006.

Before it began using ShiftWise three years ago, Oakwood Healthcare in the Detroit suburbs contracted with 22 nurse-staffing agencies at each of its four hospitals and 43 clinics. Ad hoc requests for nurses went to the agencies by fax, phone, and e-mail, says Barbara Medvec, Oakwood's chief nursing officer. And when accreditation authorities showed up for spot inspections, Medvec's staff had to dig through the file cabinets for the required certification paperwork on staff and casual nurses.

"We were in a decentralized manual process," she says. "It was hours and hours of labor."

What a difference an online app can make. Oakwood saved $1.2 million last year as ShiftWise helped it schedule its own nurses better and rely less on more expensive agency nurses. Through ShiftWise's accounting features, Oakwood was also able to save time and money on bookkeeping. And accreditation spot checks are no longer such a hassle, since ShiftWise stores the necessary data online alongside profiles of the nurses.

But Oakwood is something of an exception. Few hospitals today take advantage of services such as ShiftWise, according to Robyn Hessinger, an editor at Staffing Industry Analysts in Los Altos, Calif. American health-care facilities, she says, will spend $11.4 billion on staffing agencies this year, but only about 12 percent use computer systems to manage vendors.

"Adoption remains low," Hessinger says. "There are huge opportunities."

ShiftWise isn't the only startup doing the rounds: Symbio Solutions of Dallas has a similar system, and BidShift in San Diego has a Web-based system for maximizing staff nurses for supplemental hours. All three firms were launched during the past five years, but with Symbio having signed up only about 60 hospitals and BidShift 130, ShiftWise is the clear front-runner. Lander says the company's revenue has grown at a healthy annual rate of 300 percent since 2004, and it is expected to reach profitability this year -- right on schedule. Top of page

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