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National Labor Shortage: How It’s Impacting Your Healthcare Organization

The labor shortage in the leisure, hospitality and retail industries has been widely discussed in recent weeks, but less so in healthcare. Nurses are still the most in-demand across hospitals, physicians practices, home health and post-acute settings. The American Nurses Association estimates that by as soon as 2022 there will be more registered nurse (RN) jobs available than any other profession. With more than 500,000 seasoned RNs anticipated to retire by next year, more than 1.1 million new ones will be needed to replace retirees and fill new positions. 

The United States also has a dire need for physicians. Data released in June from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows the U.S. could be short as many as 124,000 physicians by 2034 in both primary and specialty care.

Numerous reasons exist for these shortages, one of which is unrelenting surges of COVID-19 patients. Another is the workload caused by the accompanying increase in patient volume due to a pent-up demand for care after millions of Americans deferred care in 2020 due to concern over contracting the novel coronavirus.

Combine these challenges with the pre-existing condition of clinician burnout, and the result is that practices have a major human resources issue that could negatively influence patient experience as well as care quality and outcomes. Recent advances in technology, however, can help reduce clinician burden — enabling greater efficiency and productivity and reducing the symptoms of physician and staff burnout. 

In greater detail, the following are some of the challenges organizations are facing due to the labor shortage:

Increased Patient Volume Due to Pent-up Demand

Through June 2020, nearly 41 percent of U.S. adults avoided medical care due to concerns of COVID-19. Another estimate showed that visits to ambulatory care practices dropped by 60 percent in early 2020 due to the virus. While care deferment may continue with continued surges of COVID-19 cases, there is nevertheless a significant backlog of care and demand for services. This is evidenced by a 32 percent increase in work relative value units (wRVU) per physician in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 2020 lows. wRVU growth indicates an overall increase in patient volume or services. 

Shrinking Labor Supply and Growing Demand Exacerbating Burnout

Clinician burnout, defined as “emotional exhaustion, cynicism and depersonalization and reduced professional efficacy and personal accomplishment,” is not only contributing to the labor shortage through resignations, it also is exacerbating already high levels of reported burnout among clinicians who stay on the job. Results from a survey of nearly 21,000 physicians and other providers showed that 43 percent suffered from work overload, and 49 percent experienced burnout. Meanwhile, stress scores were highest among nursing assistants, medical assistants, social workers and other clinicians. 

Patients on Long Waiting Lists

As a result of increased demand and shortage of available clinicians, patients needing non-urgent care are facing long waiting lists, particularly for preventive care and chronic condition management that was skipped in 2020 due to COVID-19. Up-to-date preventive care, such as Medicare Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs) and chronic condition management appointments, are essential to practices’ financial performance but also to patients’ health by identifying new or worsening conditions. The sooner these visits are scheduled, the better. Many are on calendar year insurance plans, so as the year comes to a close there will be a “use-it or lose-it” rush to make the most of their insurance plans. 

Digital no-touch workflows are patient expectations

During the pandemic, patients became accustomed to contactless consumer experiences, including in healthcare, where minimizing the amount of time spent inside a healthcare facility became imperative. Many healthcare organizations adopted and are still using tools that eliminate or reduce waiting room times, and this has become the patient expectation. Not to mention, telehealth utilization grew significantly over 2020, in part due to this expectation and demand for contactless care.

To help overcome the challenges of this labor shortage, practices can partner with a patient engagement platform to automate many of the administrative steps associated with a patient visit, such as registration, insurance validation and payment. Such a platform can also communicate electronically with patients right up to the moment of an in-person or telehealth encounter with a clinician, reminding them to confirm their appointment and enter a practice facility. This contactless experience is what patients have come to expect, and it alleviates burden from busy clinicians who are working harder than ever in this changing healthcare environment.

Learn more about Epion Health’s labor-saving digital check-in and patient engagement platform.