For all the discussion of technology, telehealth, and pharma in healthcare, the universal challenge is the workforce shortage. Facilities across the globe struggle to find and keep staff in all areas of the organization. Any solution will require healthcare executives to support long-term industry initiatives while managing the impact of current staffing shortages on their respective organizations.
The Impact Of Healthcare Workforce Shortages
Every day there are new articles about the impact of workforce shortages in the healthcare industry.
Staff feels increased pressure to work more hours, resulting in high burnout rates. In Ontario, nurses are leaving the field, according to the CBC report. It is a cycle that feeds on itself. Fewer nurses equal more hours, which means more burnout. Systems feel this pressure universally.
Rural communities are left without access to basic healthcare. Even as the HHS increases funds to develop services, the people in these communities are left with long drives for routine visits to a PCP, not just emergency healthcare.
Staffing shortages are forcing emergency departments to shut down, long waits for specialists, and delayed care. This is not just part of the system, nor limited geographically. Across the globe, systems are experiencing significant staffing shortages, impacting employees and patient care.
How can healthcare leaders address this?
Training & Education for Healthcare Professionals
The reality is that there simply are not enough trained healthcare professionals to meet the community’s needs. As leaders in healthcare, executives’ responsibilities extend to the system’s long-term viability. A cornerstone of the strategies for the healthcare industry must be increasing the number of trained professionals.
Healthcare leaders are in a unique position to amplify training and education opportunities. In the US, numerous healthcare education assistance programs are offered through HHS. As young adults consider their career choices, understanding what is offered can significantly influence their decisions. Within their communities, healthcare executives have access to news outlets, high schools, and community organizations where they can share information and encourage people to enter the industry.
Industry leaders must work with the government, other organizations, and associations to increase awareness of training programs. In palliative care, there is a significant effort to this end. Across groups, plans are being developed to fund and manage education and awareness programs with public and private sector participation.
As healthcare executives struggle with the reality of running their respective organizations, they must also join forces to create pan-industry solutions that include career awareness and training.
Manage staffing In the near term
High turnover and short staffing are the reality in healthcare for now. While some will receive government grants to help provide bonuses to gain or keep staff, that is a stopgap that does not solve the issue. As we await the impact of long-term industry strategies, there are changes organizations can make now.
Fortunately, the changes needed to address the short-term impact of staffing will provide long-term benefits. In a way, healthcare is forced to do what it should anyway… apply technology more wisely.
One of the most visible applications of tech is telehealth. While forced as a solution during the pandemic, providers and patients have found telehealth visits to have an important role in healthcare. As regulators and insurance reimpose pre-covid rules, the industry must move to maintain a balance that allows telehealth to continue to provide benefits along with traditional in-person visits.
Remote patient monitoring tools reduce the burden on staff while not compromising the service for patients. Remote monitoring provides a level of continuity that is new and beneficial. For patients, this can allow them to stay at home rather than in a facility, reducing costs and time while being far more convenient.
Digital Transformation (DT) is a way of thinking about processes as much as it is an application of technology. Historically, technology was applied to make what we do incrementally easier to do.
But with DT, we start by asking if what we are doing is the right thing to do. It is not about incremental improvements; it is thinking, “if we just started this (whatever this is) today, how would we do it?”
Virtual Intake Portal as an Example
SMARTMD developed a Palliative CRM with a Virtual Intake Portal (VIP) tool. VIP was developed with multiple hospice care leaders who took a fundamentally different approach: If we were to create a new admissions process built from the ground up, with today’s technology, what would it look like?
Note that they didn’t ask ” how to digitize our forms?”, “how do we create a better spreadsheet?” or “how do we make our forms easier to read on a computer?”
They did not just try to make the process they used more efficient or easier. They started by solving a problem as if a current process did not exist.
In theory (though unlikely), the process of DT could create something that looks much like what is. Usually, as with VIP, the solution is, well, transformative.
What does that have to do with staffing? Everything.
The time it takes to admit a patient was reduced significantly, with some organizations shaving 2 hours of their time off the process. This fundamentally impacts the FTE equation.
It allowed easy access and monitoring of the status of all admissions.
If a person leaves the organization, all the information, communication, and documentation are available for any peer to step in, using a process with which they are all familiar.
VIP reduced time and stress for staff, allowing employees to accomplish more in less time.
In addition to the direct and immediate benefits to the staff and patients, a process developed through DT can also address compliance concerns. Because the question was not about incremental improvements, DT was able to address all facets of the admission process.
As you review where your staff spends the most time, is there an opportunity to rethink those activities from scratch?
Staffing shortages will be with us for the foreseeable future. As organizations work to mitigate the impact, they may also find solutions that have a long-lasting benefit. For any plan to have a chance, it must combine industry-wide perspectives with system-centric responsibilities.