An adequate healthcare workforce is essential to providing high-quality, convenient, and affordable care. Unfortunately, the U.S. healthcare workforce is facing complex challenges, from burnout to labor shortages, putting tremendous strain on the healthcare delivery system.
Let us take a deeper look at three critical workforce challenges in healthcare
A Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post poll found that about six in10 healthcare workers said pandemic-related stress had harmed their mental health. The toll that these workers have taken is extensive. They have experienced over 30 months’ worth of stress, safety concerns, financial burden, family well-being issues, and witnessing first-hand the deadly toll of the pandemic. To say that healthcare workers have been stretched is an understatement.
As a result, we are seeing several trends arising from burnout. The Great Resignation, also known as the ‘Big Quit’ and the ‘Great Reshuffle’, is an ongoing economic trend in which employees have voluntarily resigned from their jobs en masse, beginning in early 2021.
There are consequences such as lower patient satisfaction, impaired quality of care, medical errors, or potentially resulting in malpractice suits with substantial costs for caregivers and hospitals.
Even as the COVID pandemic wanes, burnout remains. Many healthcare workers feel it is a never-ending onslaught of new challenges, including variants, MonkeyPox, new regulations, and more. Meanwhile, hospitals continuously work to “do more with less” as healthcare costs rise, patient acuity increases, and labor shortages continue.
Critical-level staffing shortages
According to a recent McKinsey report, the U.S. could see a deficit of 200,000 to 450,000 registered nurses available for direct patient care by 2025. In addition, primary care physicians, home health aides, medical assistants, and pharmacy technicians are also facing shortages in the coming years.
A Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post poll from March 2021, just one year into the pandemic, found that about three in 10 healthcare workers considered leaving their profession. With any labor shortage, the existing workforce takes on additional strain. They face longer hours and heavier workloads that simply are not sustainable. U.S. News recently wrote, “A growing shortage of health care workers is being called the nation’s top patient safety concern.”
Technology and the patient-provider experience
Learning new software is a challenge even for the savviest business professionals, efficiently using electronic health records (EHR) software while seeing patients is a top challenge faced by the healthcare workforce. Although new EHR features are released regularly, it’s can be challenging to find the information required… there are just so many clicks!
Conversely, most healthcare professionals understand the need for the shift from paper to electronic records. Individuals should be able to see their medical records and feel empowered to participate actively in their care. Providers should be able to access a patient’s medical record from another provider to create and carry out comprehensive, coordinated care plans.
While it feels overwhelming to many healthcare workers, it is a gradual process. Healthcare is full of regulations, and technological innovation like this has to go through rigorous compliance and regulatory processes. Nevertheless, many healthcare leaders agree that we should soon start seeing a more integrated, data-sharing healthcare system that improves the patient and provider experience.
Solutions — where do we go from here?
These are avoidable problems. We can fix this. Many healthcare organizations are taking steps to address these issues of burnout, labor shortages, and technology.
Earlier this year, the American Hospital Association wrote a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives. Here are a few proposed solutions that specifically address the challenges listed above.
- Boosting support for nursing schools and faculty
- Providing scholarships and loan forgiveness
- Expediting visas for highly trained foreign healthcare workers
- Supporting the health of physicians, nurses, and others so they can deliver safe and high-quality care by providing additional funding and flexibility to address behavioral health needs and funding for best practices to prevent burnout
Healthcare organizations are addressing burnout by implementing more mental health resources, creating more reasonable schedules, insisting on simplified EHR processes, providing regular EHR training, increasing pay, reimbursing tuition for education, and creating a more positive culture.
There is also greater emphasis placed on the strategy for the labor pipeline. Educational partnerships, scholarships, and tuition reimbursement are all ways that we can encourage entry into this demanding and rewarding healthcare workforce.
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The National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives (NALHE) and Dignity Health Global Education (DHGE) are aligned in their mission to increase access to high-quality education and equity in healthcare