Managing the healthcare staffing crisis

Managing the healthcare staffing crisis

Sustainable strategies to empower patients, retain staff and drive efficiency Industries nationwide continue to face a staffing crisis  because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effects are  obvious: canceled flights, long lines at grocery stores and  other businesses, layoffs, and shutdowns. And the impact  on the healthcare industry is no exception: extended  wait times in emergency rooms and physicians’ offices,  canceled non-essential procedures, permanently shuttered hospitals and clinics. 

However, healthcare’s staffing crisis long pre-dates COVID-19, and there are many reasons why: aging Baby Boomers who need more care than ever. The growing prevalence of chronic diseases; and a limited number of new health-profession graduates to fill open positions and address these mounting  patient needs.  In 2019, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicted that the U.S.  would see a shortage of almost 122,000 physicians by 2032 the American  Association of Colleges of Nursing anticipated that the registered nurses’  shortage also would intensify in coming years. The Administrative staff are typically  even more difficult to hire and retain.

Why? Healthcare organizations often  compete for workers with other industries (e.g., food service, hospitality and  manufacturing) that may be less demanding and offer greater flexibility. Plus,  some healthcare administrative roles—particularly front-desk jobs—offer limited  opportunities for career growth, making them less desirable for employees who want to earn more money over time. 

Even so, healthcare organizations are not powerless at this critical tipping point,  and they don’t have to accept the staffing crisis as irrevocable.  Now is the time to understand what may be driving turnover at an organization and implement sustainable strategies to reverse the trend. Here’s  the secret: It’s not about finding more people to do the work. Instead, the  solution lies in retaining existing staff and helping them to work more efficiently. 

This means automating manual tasks whenever possible so staff can focus on providing high-quality patient care and improving the patient experience. It’s  about working smarter, not harder.  Here’s another secret: Patients can help. As healthcare organizations seek to  move the needle on employee retention, they can’t overlook a critical team  member—the patient. Patients are primed and ready to play a larger role in  their healthcare journey, and organizations can seize the moment by embracing technology that supports a stellar patient experience, while simultaneously helping to alleviate the workload for clinicians and administrative staff. 

Part II 

Managing the healthcare staffing crisis: Sustainable strategies  to empower patients, retain staff and drive efficiency Facing the facts: Healthcare burnout is everywhere As healthcare organizations try to identify sustainable strategies to retain their top talent, they must recognize and address one of the leading causes  of the healthcare staffing crisis—burnout. Nearly 80% of physicians, for  example, say they felt burned out prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Additional pandemic-related responsibilities, new workflows, and the daily reality of potential virus exposure has increased the stress and exhaustion already felt by so many providers. Burnout, in turn, can lead to lower quality care and medical errors, as well as the potential for care gaps, negative health outcomes and patient dissatisfaction.

Though not as frequently measured, administrative staff burnout can be equally devastating for all types of healthcare organizations. Administrative employees must stay current with changing regulations, meet demanding productivity standards and work long hours, oftentimes with little recognition. Their jobs also typically require tedious manual tasks that drive burnout and disconnect them from their roles as patient advocates.

In any industry, burnout often precipitates employee turnover that can become difficult to manage. However, in the healthcare industry, frequent turnover can have catastrophic and cascading effects. For example, clinical staff turnover often means lost revenue and patient leakage—and the longer clinical vacancy remains unfilled, the more profound the impact on the organization. 

Today, 94% of healthcare organizations say filling clinical staff vacancies continues to be a challenge. But administrative staff vacancies also hurt operations. Inadequate registration-desk coverage can lead to longer wait times and fuel patient dissatisfaction. Staffing gaps often force remaining administrative employees to take on more responsibility, sometimes with minimal training. This breeds staff frustration and often results in missed opportunities for meaningful patient engagement.

Managing the healthcare staffing crisis: Sustainable strategies to empower patients, retain staff and drive efficiency Mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on the healthcare staffing crisis. Workers’ health concerns and COVID-19 vaccine mandates have also exacerbated the healthcare staffing crisis. Currently, healthcare organizations are seeing voluntary turnover rates of close to 25% and rising. A 2021 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that nearly 30% of healthcare workers are considering leaving their profession altogether.As patient volumes continue to rebound, healthcare organizations must find ways to address this crisis in a sustainable way—by retaining and galvanizing their existing staff. This strategy applies to all types of institutions, both rural and urban, from small independent hospitals to large integrated delivery networks. 

In an era of cost containment, hiring more employees isn’t a financially savvy decision. It’s also not a sustainable approach in either the short- or long-term. In addition, there is one major barrier that cannot be overlooked: An inability to simply raise prices. Unlike other industries that can simply raise the price of goods and services to expand their workforce, healthcare organizations are largely bound by each payer’s contracted rates, some of which may not even cover costs. 

Understanding the staffing crisis at the individual-organization levelWhile there are many priorities simultaneously competing for healthcare executives’ time and attention, none are more important than the current staffing crisis. Without people—particularly those who are knowledgeable and passionate about caring for patients—healthcare organizations cannot function. 

By investing in people, and especially by taking steps to mitigate burnout, organizations send a clear message: You matter, and we care about you. When organizations take care of their employees, employees can take better care of patients.8 With strong top-down support, they’re able to focus on high-quality, coordinated patient care and improving the patient experience. 30% of healthcare workers considering leaving their profession all together.

Source: Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation

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