The state of the health workforce is both a catalyst for change and a barrier

I’ve spoken with many healthcare leaders lately and the most salient trend – and concern – is the shrinking size and strength of the workforce in the face of growing patient demand. . Although this is not surprising, it is interesting because it is by no means a new trend. It’s not necessarily a consequence of the pandemic either, although that’s where the finger is often pointed.

The pandemic has forced clinicians who have been burnt out, frustrated, or afraid of making mistakes for years to take notable action, namely, “The Great Resignation.” As such, the focus for the remainder of 2022 will remain firmly on how to retain, rebuild and reinvigorate the workforce.

Why is this seen as the priority rather than health equity, cost reduction, or improving the patient experience? Because labor shortages limit the rate of growth, and the most drastic changes needed in health care all have a dotted line toward “operating capacity” and “worker capacity.”

You cannot improve access and quality of care if there are not enough staff to staff new buildings or offer new expanded services. Nor can you cut costs when you pay a premium to recruit and retain labor to staff existing buildings and maintain current services. Plus, long lines for everything from routine checkups and drug refills to lab tests and emergency responses overwhelm staff, leading to more quits and even longer lineups. long – and more disgruntled patients and employees. It is a ferocious cycle that must be broken.

So leaders are hoping that prioritizing membership expansion — or at least stabilizing and increasing — will do the trick.

Three ways to increase clinical capacity

Those who want to serve more patients, offer more services, reduce costs, or provide equal and expanded access to quality care can address staffing and skills shortages in several ways. They can:

  1. turning to technology to augment clinical and non-clinical staff and automate workflows, which can help streamline the delivery of care, regardless of how many people are present or how many patients need to be seen.
  2. completely reorganize models of care to redistribute services on their campuses or perhaps even off campus.
  3. just hire and train aggressively.

As many leading healthcare systems work on this last point, there will come a time when money no longer matters and all the incentives in the world will no longer be enough to attract or retain talent. A fundamental culture shift must be visible for burnt-out healthcare professionals to stay or return and for students to feel compelled to pursue careers in healthcare. That’s why most clinicians, IT managers, and administrators spend more time, money, and effort on the first two options.

The sooner they can digitally scale healthcare information, communication, and workflow systems, the sooner they’ll see efficiencies, even if they don’t hire a single person. In fact, nine out of ten hospital leaders who participated in a recent global study agreed that the quality of patient care would improve if nurses, clinicians and non-clinical auxiliary healthcare workers had access to tools collaboration and healthcare applications. Specifically, they felt that “real-time intelligence is essential for optimal patient care.”

This can take the form of clinical mobility solutions that enable instant communication between care teams and access to patient records or real-time location systems (RTLS) and smart software solutions that provide actionable information and prescriptive advice. Executives also indicate that artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and advanced Internet of Things (IoT) platforms will become more prevalent as they aim to automate data capture, information flows and even decision making, which can save time and energy. in clinical and non-clinical workflows.

Still, For technology to be a real solution to today’s workforce problem, it must be simple to deploy, configure, secure and manage. Otherwise, it will only make the problem worse while overwhelming IT teams. If it takes a lot of resources to design, test, implement, or maintain solutions, the return on investment (ROI) could fall flat, even if projects start at all.

That’s why decision makers are increasingly opting for hardware and software solutions designed specifically for medical applications. They know that the move to 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will require significant infrastructure overhauls, and depending on the age of their legacy systems, they may need to remove, replace, or rebuild their entire architecture. technology to enable widespread digitization and automation. Therefore, they will look for technology platforms that lighten the load and offer quick wins.

Outsourcing to address shortages

Understandably, undertaking any type of digital transformation right now may seem impossible to those who are financially or manpower constrained, even if some sort of step change is needed. So some health leaders are looking outside their own four walls for ways to deliver the quality care people need and expect. We are already seeing more and more minute clinics popping up in pharmacies, grocery stores and even corporate workplaces, and home care offerings are expanding, although patients have the option of resuming clinic visits. But expect some resistance to “retail health care.” Not everyone is sold on the idea that it is the solution to the labor problem.

There is definitely a convenience factor for patients who can stop at the store and get everything they need, including a consultation. And providing equitable access to care becomes less problematic when in-person or virtual clinics can be housed in local recreation centers, especially in rural areas where it may not make sense to open large-scale medical centers. However, you still need qualified people to provide these services. You also need certain technology capabilities to ensure access to patient information in digital health devices and electronic medical records (EMRs), which are critical to continuity of care – and delivering quality care. – when there is no consistency of doctors.

Also, you cannot outsource emergency care or surgeries to retail and community sites. Thus, these hybrid care models and community alliances will not be enough to make the labor issue non-issue. There will always be a need to augment the health workforce with technology.

Technology is the agent of change

Although we may see an imbalance between staff and patient numbers for some time, this does not mean that healthcare capacity should always remain disproportionate to demand. If clinicians can see twice as many patients in a day without getting overwhelmed or making mistakes just because we change workflow structures and increase the use of technology, it doesn’t matter if recruiting stops. Everyone will have what they want:

  • Patients will be able to access quality care without having to travel far or wait for hours (or months).
  • Clinicians and other staff will feel productive, valued and satisfied with their work and will encourage others to come and work with them.
  • Administrators will be able to operate more facilities and deliver more services without worrying about delays, disruptions or degradation of the patient experience, resulting in better margins.

Therefore, healthcare leaders will evolve models of care to meet both patients and providers where they are, and they will invest aggressively in technology to facilitate care within these models. The hope is that this will resize the workforce – or at least increase care capacity alongside demand, which will improve patient outcomes and experiences.

Michael A. Bynum