Healthcare Workforce Solutions

Healthcare workforce challenges: The top issue for hospital executives.

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For 16 years, the top concern for U.S. hospitals reported in the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) annual survey was financial challenges. Then, starting in 2021, a new category emerged as the frontrunner—"workforce challenges.”1,2

"Workforce challenges” is a broad category that includes registered nurse (RN) staffing issues, burnout, and other healthcare workforce shortages.

Deborah J. Bowen, President, and CEO of ACHE advised that hospitals should develop both short and long-term strategies to address critical workforce problems. "Longer-term solutions include strengthening the workforce pipeline through creative partnerships, such as those with colleges to grow the number of nurses and technicians. More immediate solutions include supporting and developing all staff, building staff resilience, organizing services to reflect the reality of the labor market, and exploring alternative models of care.”

Technology plays a key role in supporting these strategies.

Labor trends

Top 3 healthcare workforce challenges.

1. Shortage of registered nurses. An incredible 90% of survey participants indicated a shortage of registered nurses was one of their three top issues.

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses called nursing shortage³ "an epic catch-22" because understaffed facilities depend so heavily on nurses to handle an impossible workload that it leads to burnout and high turnover, further fueling the nursing shortage.
Four major factors are driving the shortage:
  1. An aging population increases demand for healthcare services. By 2030, the baby boomer generation, 73 million people, will be over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

  2. Senior nurses are retiring. More than one million are projected to retire by 2030.⁴

  3. High turnover. According to the NIH, as of February 2022, the national average turnover rate for nurses ranged from 9% to 37%.

  4. Insufficient educators and nursing programs. The rate of replacement of nurses exiting the workforce is not keeping pace with vacancies.

2. Shortage of technicians (medical technologists and lab technicians). A top concern cited by 83% of survey participants was a shortage of laboratory technologists and technicians. Clinical diagnostic laboratories have struggled with staffing issues for decades, but it was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Any technologists experienced in Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing were shifted to COVID-19 response, and newly graduated technologists with novice skill sets did not receive the support and mentorship needed to manage the workload.

A white paper published by the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science found that enrollment in U.S. training programs for clinical laboratory technologists was less than half the number needed to fill vacancies.⁵ The shortages are attributed to retirements, increased demand for testing creating stressful workloads, changes in the practice of clinical laboratory science, and vacancy rates in education programs, further fueling the gap between the supply of new graduates and industry demand.

3. Burnout among non-physician staff. The third issue, cited by 80% of survey participants, was burnout among non-physician staff.

In 2022, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, M.D., U.S. Surgeon General, wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine⁶, "Burnout manifests in individuals, but it's fundamentally rooted in systems. And health worker burnout was a crisis long before COVID-19 arrived. Causes include inadequate support, escalating workloads and administrative burdens, chronic underinvestment in public health infrastructure, and declining morale precipitated by staff feeling continually unable to provide the care patients need. Burnout is not only about long hours. It's about the fundamental disconnect between health workers and the mission to serve that motivates them.”

Technology benefits

Connectivity can help.

Although creating more efficiency with the use of digital technology won't solve all the healthcare workforce challenges, it can help—and can be implemented more swiftly than other strategies to educate and recruit staff. Connectivity can support the novice workforce by enabling them to access information and resources on demand. It also enables clinicians to reach out in real-time to more senior staff for support in decision making and allow clinicians to synthesize new learnings into their practice more rapidly.

Digitized, unified, and standardized data has the potential to improve the quality of care. Automated and innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), voice recognition applications, and virtual assistants can improve employee workflows, automate processes, and potentially decrease burnout by enabling healthcare providers to focus on aspects of patient care that motivated them to join the profession.

In fact, a report7,8 published by Nuance Communications this year found that 94% of physicians believe speech recognition and virtual assistant technology improve their ability to document care, and 70% said ambient technology lets them focus more on patient care. In 2021, Nuance Communications and athenahealth integrated voice recognition and virtual assistant technologies into the athenaOne EHR and Mobile App as a way to decrease burdensome EHR documentation processes.

Imperative to success in addressing the diminishing workforce, healthcare organizations must adopt healthcare workforce solutions and technology that improves employee workflow, supports a hybrid work environment for optimal work/life balance, and automates redundant work processes to improve the ability of staff to flourish and perform at the top of their experience.

About the author:

Dr. Christine Gall.

Dr. Christine Gall, Head of Healthcare Marketing

Dr. Gall has been a healthcare leader for over 30 years. As a nurse, she has practiced in inpatient, outpatient, and homecare settings, allowing unique insights into the continuum of care. Dr. Gall has designed and implemented multiple clinical programs aimed at addressing gaps in services and care for underserved patients.

Prior to joining T-Mobile, Dr. Gall consulted with local government to support their pandemic emergency response. In her role at T-Mobile, Dr. Gall leads the product marketing strategy for healthcare, collaborating with healthcare leaders and clinicians to create telehealth and mobility solutions that address the greatest challenges of the day. She believes that T-Mobile's powerful 5G network is key to addressing health disparities and barriers to access that impact population health.

Dr. Gall's academic credentials include a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Master of Science Degree in Healthcare Management from the Lubar School of Business Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Doctorate Degree in Public Health Leadership from the University of Illinois Chicago. Her Dissertation, funded by the State of Ohio, was on the topic of Mass Casualty Pandemics. Dr. Gall is a Six Sigma Green Belt and has a Certification in Business Analytics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.



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