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National labor shortage vs. Rising Patient Volume: How to win the battle against “The Big Quit”

The labor shortage crisis in healthcare, sometimes referred to as “The Big Quit,” shows no signs of slowing down. Recently, survey results from Medscape showed that more than one-in-five (22 percent) of physicians said they were considering leaving their current jobs to pursue a non-clinical career. The nursing shortage, meanwhile, has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic turmoil. Researchers estimate that California, for example, will not recover from its shortage of nurses until at least 2026

In total, 524,000 workers have left healthcare since February 2020. At the same time, however, patient volume is rebounding to pre-pandemic levels. As of late July, emergency department and inpatient volumes were at 2019 levels, while outpatient visits and procedures were almost five percent higher, according to McKinsey.

In economic terms, healthcare has a high demand and very low supply. Since it is largely a service industry, physician practices and health systems can mitigate some of the effects of the shortage through more efficient operations. This can be achieved by shifting tasks that do not require their skills or expertise to other team members or, better yet, utilizing technology.

Prevent Wasted Time

In a typical practice visit, there are numerous steps and tasks where a highly skilled – and now scarce – clinician or front office staff member does not need to be involved. Appointment scheduling and registration, for example, which are usually conducted over the phone, can consume precious minutes for a front-office staff member. Although it is a crucial phase of a care episode, basic information gathering and data entry do not typically need to be done manually by staff. 

Patients, at their home through a computer or smartphone, can schedule an appointment and enter their necessary registration information, including health plan data. If the patient does not understand or cannot supply certain information, a front office staff member can resolve that issue later, if necessary. 

For most visits, patients would prefer to conduct this part of the visit using a computer or device. Even back in 2017, 80 percent of patients surveyed said they prefer a physician who offers online scheduling, a number which has likely increased since then. Online scheduling and registration enable the patient to book an appointment outside of business hours and give them time to search for medical history and insurance information.

Shifting online scheduling and registration tasks to the patient also promotes data accuracy, as long as he or she enters the information correctly. This information is always reviewed during the appointment to ensure accuracy, but by alleviating the front office staff or medical assistant from the information gathering, it can save them time for direct patient care, thereby delivering a positive experience.

Maintain Telehealth Visits

Another way healthcare organizations can promote efficiency and maximize use of clinicians’ skills is by maintaining telehealth visits. Across all age groups, more than 78 percent of patients on average agree or strongly agree that they were “very satisfied” with the care they received during a telehealth visit since March 2020. Similar responses were seen for statements, such as: 

  • “Will continue to use telehealth services in the future” 
  • “The provider spent enough time with me” 
  • “The overall quality of the visit was good”

These sentiments are highly understandable considering that a telehealth study conducted in 2019 found that 62.6 percent of patients and 59 percent of clinicians reported no difference in “the overall quality of the visit” and that telehealth was “vastly preferred” by patients to office visits for convenience and travel time. Notable for the current labor shortage crisis is that a majority (52.5 percent) of clinicians reported higher efficiency through a telehealth appointment versus in-person. 

Offer More Direct Patient Care

Enabling physicians, nurses and other highly-skilled clinicians to practice at the top of their license offers numerous benefits for a healthcare organization. Eliminating manual, non-clinical activities where possible can improve their experience, making them less prone to feelings of stress and burnout and reducing the risk of resignations. 

With a labor shortage and an increase in patient volume, the added time clinicians can spend on direct patient care through reduced administrative responsibility will likely result in the practice completing more visits in a day, which could improve financial performance. Lastly, and most importantly, clinicians who are able to maximize use of their clinical experience and skills can focus more time and attention on delivering an improved patient experience and achieving optimal outcomes. 

Schedule a meeting with us to learn more about how Epion Health can help your organization operate more efficiently and offload administrative burden from your team.