New Solutions To Ongoing Health Care Staffing Challenges

New Solutions To Ongoing Health Care Staffing Challenges

As the health care labor shortage continues, professionals at The Hartford share ways medical organizations can better manage and support their workforce.
Heather Savino, Underwriting Officer and Industry Lead, The Hartford
Heather Savino, Underwriting Officer and Industry Practice Leader, The Hartford
Jim Flanders, Underwriting Director, National Accounts, The Hartford
Jim Flanders, Underwriting Director, National Accounts, The Hartford
The health care industry continues to face a labor shortage crisis, which has downstream effects on both Health Care professionals and their patients. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many health care workers opted to retire or resigned from their jobs due to burnout, creating a significant staffing strain on the industry. Currently, the United States needs more than 17,000 primary care practitioners, 12,000 dental health practitioners and 8,200 mental health practitioners.1 For health care leaders, it is important to consider what steps you can take to better support your workforce.
“The pandemic revealed the inadequacies in our health care infrastructure and our staffing models and created a challenging dynamic for health care industries to retain the talent they had,” said Heather Savino, health care industry practice lead at The Hartford. “While I believe there was an initial empathetic rush to support health care, that quickly faded as the reality of the pandemic’s longevity continued. It’s become increasingly difficult for health care institutions to get out in front of this enough to have meaningful impact on the shortage.”

New Staffing Models Combat the Labor Shortage

To address these ongoing challenges, hospitals and medical centers have been looking at new solutions to attract and retain talent, while maintaining their standards of care.
Travel nursing has gained popularity as it offers temporary positions across the nation. Travel nursing gives hospitals and medical centers the opportunity to fill gaps where shortages are high without having to commit financially to long-term positions. It’s attractive to a population of nurses who welcome the opportunity to work on a rotating basis in various locations. Although the demand for travel nurse positions has decreased since it peaked in 2022, it remains an important source of labor for hospitals.
Hospitals are also investing in cross-training staff to fill labor gaps in non-critical care areas. This can include cross-training administrators, community health workers and nurses to support specific programs. Cross-training can help alleviate pressure when there are gaps on a team or staff is juggling vacation and/or extended leave.
While telemedicine is not a new concept, more care facilities are investing in technology to support in-home care. Telehealth can provide the convenience and opportunity for doctors to remotely monitor patient progress, coordinate with other providers and provide patients with more access to their patient information than in the past.2 This can be particularly advantageous for seniors. People aged 65 and over will require up to 407,300 physicians by 2034.3 Studies have shown that remote patient monitoring improves patient outcomes for chronic conditions like heart failure, stroke, COPD, asthma and hypertension.4 Exploring telehealth as a part of your staffing model has the potential to make health care more efficient, better coordinated and possibly less costly.

Steps Leaders Can Take to Better Support Their Workforce

Addressing the labor shortage for health care workers isn’t easy. Every health care organization is unique, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. However, there are basic steps hospitals and health care facilities can take to support their already stretched staff, including:

Recruitment Efforts

Maintaining a solid workforce begins with strong recruitment efforts. Hospitals and medical institutions are finding unique ways to provide incentives to prospective employees looking for work.
“Effective hospitals or health care systems are also looking at new and creative ways to compensate and attract talent,” said Savino. “For example, we have seen hospitals partnering with real estate firms to help nurses find temporary housing near the hospital to incentivize them to move to a new area.”
Other hospitals have begun providing auto services so traveling health care staff don’t have to worry about transportation. Hospitals are also working with local businesses to provide vehicles to staff.
“There was a time when there was an influx of qualified nurses and orderlies, and unfortunately that is not the case today,” Savino said. “It is critical to invest in training, offer competitive pay and encourage staff to want to work at your facility.”

Invest in Technology

Prioritizing funds for emerging technologies can have a positive impact on the burden health care workers are feeling.
“We've seen technology can alleviate a lot of stress on hospitals,” said Jim Flanders an underwriting director at The Hartford. “Better equipment leads to better monitoring for patients, which can lead to faster diagnosis and care plans. If you invest in basic technology, you can reduce the overall check-ins needed for patients.”
Additionally, there has been a greater adoption of digital data retention with patient records. “It is no longer necessary to be in an office setting because patient records are digitally available. We know doctors are also working remotely and looking at patient files. Technology has expanded the capabilities for health care staff to complete parts of their job from anywhere,” said Savino.
Doctors can also prescribe patient medication virtually through secure portals, minimizing the number of in-person visits needed to provide care. In addition, some health care systems have begun integrating patient data management systems (PDMS), which automatically retrieve data from bedside medical equipment. In turn, this allows clinicians to spend more time on patient care, which may lead to improved clinical outcomes for patients.5 Over time, updated technology can ease the workload on your employees, while also creating a better experience for patients.

Watch for Signs of Burnout

It is also important to have a plan in place for employees who are experiencing burnout. Ensure your company has an established employee assistance program (EAP) and other wellness resources employees can tap into. Research shows that a well-implemented workplace health program can lead to 25% savings for employers.6
That said, offering EAP resources isn’t enough. It’s also important to continually highlight the available resources to your workforce. EAP information can be shared through company emails and newsletters, in addition to sharing it during employee orientation, during meetings with management, through the company intranet and continued education offered to employees.7
“As an organization, it is essential in these times to take a preventative approach,” said Flanders. “Find creative ways to support the staff you currently have and explore new opportunities to attract more folks into the profession. It is a difficult time, but there are opportunities out there that can alleviate some of the strain health care professionals are experiencing.”
1 “Concern Grows Around Us Health-Care Workforce Shortage: ‘We Don’t Have Enough Doctors’,” CNN, May 2023
2 “Telehealth: Technology Meetings Health Care,” Mayo Clinic, August 2023
3 “Aging Patients and Doctors Drive Nation’s Physician Shortage,” Association of American Medical Colleges, June 2021
4, 5 “The Impact Of Health Information Technology On Patient Safety,” National Library of Medicine, December 2017
6 “Control Health Care Costs: Workplace Health Programs Can Impact Health Care Costs,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, December, 2015
7 How Can We Promote Our EAP To Increase Its Usage?,” Mental Health America, August, 2023.
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