Creative Solutions to Combat Healthcare Workforce Challenges
By ANDREW MCDONALD, FACHE
Whether it's a hospital struggling to keep enough doctors in their community or a new medical practice trying to find administrative staff or outsourcing solutions to cut costs, today's healthcare workforce environment is creating challenges that are far reaching.
To combat these issues, providers, practices and other healthcare facilities are seeking ways to get creative with how they operate, from longstanding solutions like consolidation to relying on technology such as using telemedicine to help deliver care and telecommuting to offer greater employee flexibility.
The real struggle with staffing lies with recruiting and retention. There simply isn't the quantity of talented staff out there to meet growing demand, and retention rates are often abysmal. It's key to find employees who fit an organization's culture and then take steps not lose them. Turnover can be very costly, so spending time upfront to ensure you find the right people is vital. Make sure you have an efficient hiring process, so you don't lose the top candidates to a competitor and invest time and money in keeping them once you get them in the door.
For healthcare providers, there's an increasing focus on creating work cultures to keep staff morale and retention high. Today, some healthcare organizations are creating more flexible work environments where possible. Unless it's absolutely necessary to be physically present, allowing employees the ability to work from home can have many benefits, such as reducing burnout. Other ways providers can look at creating a more flexible and welcoming environment include creating paid time off and maternity/paternity leave policies, as well as allowing sabbaticals. Many organizations, like LBMC, are also adding Learning and Development divisions or services that offer professional development as an additional employee perk.
When it comes to the healthcare industry, one of the current trends is to focus on inventive administrative staffing. For hospitals and medical practices, there's a struggle to find staff members who are the right fit for the job. Utilizing medical services organizations (MSOs) can help these healthcare providers address their current needs and plan for the future. There are many ways MSOs can help. For instance, if a provider seeks to outsource -- whether they are looking to find talent for accounting, human resources, IT or revenue cycle services -- they potentially have the opportunity to work with high-level experts while simultaneously lowering costs.
The healthcare industry has struggled in other areas that impact healthcare professionals and the general public. Hospitals are closing all around the country causing healthcare providers to search for new ways to operate when it comes to finances and delivering medical care. While some of these closures have impacted cities and their suburbs, many rural areas have been devastated by the lack of inpatient care and specialty services. A study from the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program reports that 85 rural hospitals closed in the U.S. between 2010 and 2018. Tennessee was the state with the second-most closures. This is where telemedicine is potentially able to make a difference. By using technology, medical practitioners are able to expand their geographic reach. For instance, a diabetic in a farming community located hours from a hospital could use a mobile app that logs blood sugar levels and sends the information to a medical professional who can advise them on insulin usage. Telehealth is also being used to combat physician burnout and increase patient engagement.
The usage of telemedicine has increased exponentially over the past few years, and it has filled a critical gap in the healthcare field. According to the American Hospital Association, 76 percent of hospitals reported using telecommunications to provide medical care in 2017. That figure was up over 10 percent from the previous year and more than 40 percent higher than 2010. "Telehealth has become a viable option for providers and patients. Providers must continue to innovate, in order to keep up with consumer needs," said LBMC TeleHealth Lead Josh Scales. According to a survey released in April by American Well at ATA19, physician telehealth adoption has increased by 340 percent in the past three years.
In addition to finding new ways to deliver medicine, healthcare providers are looking at methods such as consolidation and mergers and acquisitions in order to be financially healthy. Whether it is private equity firms buying physician practices ... or hospitals acquiring a local doctor's office, mergers and acquisitions can be a financial lifesaver. According to LBMC's 2019 Business Outlook Report, growth through acquisition was named as a business strategy by 27 percent of participating leaders - which was an 9 percent increase from last year. Additionally, 12 percent of participating leaders noted they will consider either selling businesses or being acquired.
Consolidating is another way healthcare leaders can improve business functions while synergizing operations. It can allow a healthcare provider to have a more centralized business support structure, such as having accounting, billing, human resources, IT support and other services provided by professionals who are laser-focused on the business aspects, while providers focus on practicing medicine and growing their practice. By consolidating, a provider can enable their organization to access highly skilled talent, expand to more markets, and enhance their overall leverage with payers to potentially glean better rates for the services they provide.
Though there have been numerous issues when it comes to the healthcare industry in recent years, finding and implementing creative workforce solutions can result in improved patient care and cost savings - a benefit for both providers and patients alike.
Andrew McDonald, FACHE, is a shareholder and the practice leader for LBMC Physician Business Solutions, LLC and LBMC Healthcare Consulting. A Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, McDonald has served as an administrator or consultant to a broad range of healthcare organizations over a 30-year career. For more information, go to lbmc.com.