Nearly a decade ago, some experts predicted a shortage of 52,000 physicians in the United States by 2025. What wasn’t calculated into that estimate was a global COVID-19 pandemic that would stretch the healthcare industry to its limits, both operationally and financially.
In addition to postponing or cancelling elective procedures and furloughing employees at various stages of the pandemic, many hospitals and health systems dealt with downward revenue pressure and negative margins.
Let’s look at some numbers that highlight the severity of this pressure:
- Recent research shows hospitals are now paying 24 billion more per year for qualified clinical labor than they did pre-pandemic, a number up by an average of 8% per patient day.
- In rural areas of the U.S., 1 in 5 hospitals have been at risk of closure since before the pandemic due to financial difficulties.
- Use of sick time by healthcare employees is up 50% for full-time clinical staff and more than 60% for part-time employees.
- The annual rate of turnover across emergency, ICU, and nursing departments has increased from 18% to 30%.
- Last month saw U.S. hospitals lose roughly 8,000 jobs, and healthcare employment overall fell by 17,500 and is down by 524,000 since February 2020.
- A primary reason for these declining numbers is that nearly 30% of healthcare workers are considering leaving their profession altogether.
Recognizing the need for more nurses and doctors
A recent estimate of the shortage of physicians is up to 124,000 physicians by 2034. Between 35-54% of U.S. doctors and nurses suffer from symptoms of burnout, which the National Academy of Medicine characterizes as high emotional exhaustion, high depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment from work.
Even with approximately 29 million nurses and midwives globally and 3.9 million in the U.S., there may still be a shortfall of 510,394 registered nurses by 2030. Some research projects that 1.2 million new registered nurses will be needed to address that deficit – a deficit that is certainly impacted by the lack of potential educators, high turnover, and inequitable workforce distribution.
Faculty shortages limit the capacity of nursing schools to accept more students and nurses moving away from direct patient care or leaving the health field altogether because of stress. These clinicians are experiencing higher workloads because of increased demand for nurses, an inadequate supply of nurses, reduced staffing, increased overtime, and reduction in patient length of stay.
A heavy nursing workload adversely affects patient safety, and nursing shortages can lead to errors and higher morbidity and mortality rates. The impact of the nursing shortage on patients also includes:
- lapses of continuity in treatment
- risk of over- or under-medicating patients
- greater risk of medical errors
- risk of infections and compromised data security
Assessing the impact on non-clinical professionals
What’s not discussed as often as the physician and nurse shortage is the impact this shortage has on non-clinical professionals as well as shortages among specific non-clinical professions. About half of all healthcare employees are non-clinical staff who interact with patients but do not dispense medical advice or carry out procedures.
- 700,000 in office and administrative support positions
- 200,000 in management roles
- 100,000 in business/finance positions
Other non-clinical roles that are crucial to the healthcare industry specialize in population health, reimbursement, and HIT. They include:
- coding professionals and leaders
- clinical documentation improvement (CDI) specialists
- health information management and technology professionals
- case managers
- revenue cycle management professionals and leaders
- denials prevention and recovery professionals
- cancer registrars
Many provider organizations are struggling to find experts in these professions. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 60% of respondents to a survey by the Medical Group Management Association indicated that their organization experienced this deficit, citing larger organizations offering better pay, low unemployment rates, and difficulty recruiting in rural areas.
Non-clinical professionals are essential to the healthcare industry. They serve patients behind the scene, as they are responsible for providing tools, data, resources, policies, and procedures that assist clinicians in providing quality healthcare to patients. Along with providing a powerful influence on how patients perceive their entire care experience, they are an important part of increasing patient engagement, improving care coordination, and helping patients connect with the resources outside of diagnostic care.
Improving recruitment and retaining expert non-clinical professionals
The Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health compiled the following list of recommended actions to address the worldwide need for healthcare workers:
- increase technical and political leadership to support human resource development
- collect reliable data for health databases
- make front line health services more accessible and acceptable from community and mid-level healthcare professionals
- balance the global distribution of healthcare workers and improving retention in needy countries
- give healthcare workers a voice in the development of universal health coverage policies
A recent study showed that such a strain on mental health stem from less intensive training on personal protective equipment and infection-control measures, reduced access to formal psychological support, and less firsthand medical information on the outbreak. Supporting non-clinical healthcare professionals – as they are at risk of anxiety, depression, and stress related to the COVID-19 outbreak just as doctors and nurses are – is critical to their well-being as well as organizational well-being.
By fostering a culture that supports communication, flexibility, accessibility, diverse voices, the healthcare industry can drive efficiencies and have the tools on hand to improve outcomes. Having a trusted staffing partner is key to tackling those goals within the complex infrastructure of healthcare.
Here at Harmony Healthcare, we know that the right service partner can provide a better solution for your staffing needs. We personalize support for some of the largest health systems in the nation, major academic health centers, hospitals, physician practices and payers with a world-class team of non-clinical experts.
Check out our guide on the true cost of hiring and recommendations on what traits to look for when selecting an interim staffing partner.
Kick-start your journey with us here: