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4 Ways to Ease the Burden of the Healthcare Staffing Shortage

The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States is once again on the decline. As of February 9, 2022, the current 7-day moving average of daily new cases decreased 42.8 percent compared with the previous week. Although this is positive news for the healthcare industry, it doesn’t do much to appease the labor shortage that’s been making headlines in recent months. 

As we mentioned in a recent blog, ” the current national labor shortage has defied expectations of economic experts, who now estimate that the problem will last for years due to the quitting and retirements. States such as North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina and West Virginia are dealing with critical staff shortages in at least one-third of their hospitals, and hospitals and health systems across the country are paying $24 billion more per year for qualified clinical labor than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Healthcare staff shortages are projected for every state by 2026, when the U.S. will lack an estimated 3.2 million healthcare workers. One widely-cited study projects a shortfall of 510,394 registered nurses by 2030 with approximately 1.2 million new registered nurses needed to address that deficit. 

Despite these staffing challenges, health systems, medical groups and other providers must continue to serve patients. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, maintaining appropriate staffing in healthcare facilities is essential to providing a safe work environment for healthcare professionals and safe patient care. 

Meeting this workforce shortage challenge while focusing on reducing clinician burnout is essential for the healthcare industry, especially as physicians and nurses continue to battle the psychological effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, 60-75 percent of clinicians have reported symptoms of exhaustion, depression, sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Similarly, an American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) survey found that 92 percent of nurses believe the pandemic has depleted nurses at their hospitals, and 66 percent feel their experiences during the pandemic have caused them to consider leaving nursing. 

Going Digital with Data 

Technology isn’t the only answer for overcoming healthcare industry obstacles, but, when designed and utilized correctly, it can streamline workflows, reduce administrative burden and improve both provider and patient satisfaction. Here are four strategic methods provider organizations of all sizes can employ to alleviate some of the problems caused by the staffing shortage: 

1.    Promote real-time data integration directly in the EHR

Documenting a patient’s test results and other data as soon as that information is available improves decision-making, lowers cost and enhances patient care. Similarly, having access to information gleaned from medical devices and retrospective electronic health record (EHR) data can improve patient safety, inform clinical decision support and shape governance strategies.

EHR integration of real-time data supports the patient’s objective of receiving top-quality care. For clinicians, it offers access to comprehensive data collection on a patient’s overall health, resulting in a decrease in unnecessary tasks and fewer unnecessary tests and procedures. Doctors have the most up-to-date information with which to make clinical decisions, thereby reducing the probability of costly medical errors.

Additionally. if data obtained during digital check-in automatically flows into the EHR, it can save time for administrative staff. It also can help clinicians prepare for a visit sooner, making appointments more efficient.  

2.    Utilize patient-entered, not staff-obtained data

When healthcare providers use paper templates to be filled in by patients, it’s a time-consuming process. Some patients fail to fill out the forms correctly, and front-office staff members occasionally make data entry errors.

Using patient-generated health data not only increases accuracy, saves time and empowers patients, it translates to better patient care, shorter hospital stays and fewer admissions and readmissions. For physicians and other clinicians, it improves care delivery by enabling them to gather important information about how patients are doing between medical visits and provide information for use in shared decision-making about preventive and chronic care management. 

3.    Prioritize digital check-in tools

Solutions such as digital check-in employed during the patient intake process promote streamlined registration and quicker, easier retrieval of completed patient forms, insurance verification and any additional components of the process. As one of the most utilized digital technologies in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, this technology frees front-office staff from time-consuming paperwork review and revisions and offers a more complete and accurate look at patients’ medical history and medication.

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) notes that digital technologies such as patient portals, automated appointment reminder systems, check-in solutions and online payment options have achieved the most positive results in recent years for providers because they streamline practice workflow, improve patient experience and lead to more efficient and effective care delivery when implemented strategically. According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), digital check-in decreases check-in time by 20 percent.

Digital check-in tools also assist healthcare providers in optimizing patient scheduling, reducing patient waiting room time, decreasing patient registration errors and allowing front-office staff to focus their attention on more crucial administrative duties. A poll of healthcare leaders whose practices use digital check-in technology found that this type of solution:

  • Improves accuracy and allows time to receive the patient rather than just processing information
  • Helps with collections, leading to an increase in copay collection and a more standardized process
  • Heightens awareness of patient arrivals and wait times

Digital check-in doesn’t only benefit providers, though. Survey results found that more than half of patients would choose a doctor that let them fill out paperwork online before a visit. 

4.    Use digital tools to identify and educate patients

When provider organizations deploy digital tools optimally, these resources have the potential to increase consumer satisfaction, improve medication adherence and help consumers track and monitor their health. When patients are fully engaged in their care, they’re more likely to maintain treatment plans, track their health and ask their providers questions. 

One key tool in this category is remote patient monitoring (RPM), which can be utilized to provide educational content and remind patients to collect their vitals, thereby enabling physicians to leverage that data and provide patients with better feedback about their condition(s) and treatment. RPM platforms give providers the ability to treat different populations, including individuals with chronic conditions.

The capability of population health management helps providers direct medical care at the most at-risk populations, a strategy that enhances population health and economic efficiency. It also allows physicians to address social determinants of health (SDOH) in a more accurate and time-efficient manner.

Some healthcare providers achieve increased convenience and accessibility in patient education by offering information about patient services within the check-in workflow. Using a dual opt-in method, patients determine if they would like to see any patient services. As services are presented, they have the choice to opt-in or skip. At Epion Health, our cloud-based, HIPAA-compliant patient engagement platform automates and integrates patient access to alleviate administrative bottlenecks, helping deliver a more consistent, tailored and enjoyable patient experience across all touchpoints.

Schedule a meeting with us to learn more!