“‘Workforce is the top challenge right now for CEOs,’ says Brian Tabor, President of the Indiana Hospital Association. ‘All industries are being challenged right now…but in healthcare, it’s a matter of life and death,’ he tells Health Evolution. ‘Unfortunately, some of the areas that are most strained are emergency rooms, critical care units and areas that saw the most intense utilization and grimmest stories during COVID.’”
Dr. Vineet Arora, Dean for the Medical Education at University of Chicago Medicine, echoes these sentiments, telling the publication, ‘“Hospitals are seeing problems with retention. They are offering flexibility, fluidity and top-dollar to keep clinicians, but people have PTSD from the pandemic and there’s an overwhelming sense of ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’”
Why Healthcare Workers Are Quitting in Droves
So why are physicians and other healthcare professionals leaving? According to research recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovation, Quality & Outcomes, some of the primary drivers for the mass exodus of healthcare workers are clinician burnout, excess workload, and anxiety or depression caused by COVID-19-related trauma.
Other factors include:
Lack of support and communication: many healthcare workers lack structured communication lines to discuss workplace issues and other obstacles, which lead to deepening distrust
Limited growth opportunities: numerous providers are frustrated with their employers lack of continuing education and training opportunities
Limited ability to impact patient care and models of healthcare delivery: increasing bureaucratic red tape, constraints on support staff resources, and a lack of meaningful participation in the clinical decision-making process have caused provider dissatisfaction within their profession
As the ramifications of these amplified frustrations come to a head, hospitals and health systems are shelling out more money than ever to attract and retain talent. According to Premier, a healthcare consultancy, these organizations are paying $24 billion more per year for qualified clinical labor than they did pre-pandemic, while overtime hours are up 52% and use of staffing agencies is up 132%. The costs only continue to increase when considering the roughly $500,000 it costs to replace a physician.
Combating the Issue with a Multipronged Approach
Every healthcare organization's strategy to address the issues that have led to the Great Resignation should start by focusing on the provider’s experience the most, since employees who find meaning in their work are 1.4 times more engaged and 1.7 times more satisfied than their peers. Companies that focus on employee experience see 40% less turnover than their competitors that do not, while achieving greater profits and revenues.
Given the rigors of the job, especially in the post-pandemic landscape, it’s essential to develop and provide resiliency training for your providers to handle high pressure environments and emotionally charged situations. It’s just as important to understand that high compensation can no longer be a catch all solution to retention; benefits that focus on flexibility, increased autonomy, and professional development and growth will build goodwill with your organization’s providers.
Healthcare organizations have also begun to rethink staffing models to ensure their patients are able to be treated despite the exodus of healthcare providers. The increasing use of locum tenens – projected to grow 7% YoY to $4.7 billion in 2022 – has allowed facilities to provide continuity of care, offer better workload management, and help prevent burnout and fatigue with their permanent physicians.
In the longer-term, it will be critical for healthcare organizations to create new talent pipelines, developing close relationships with training institutions for Advanced Practice Providers. While the growth of the physician vocation continues to be restricted by limited residency spots, nurse practitioners have more than doubled in just seven years. By 2030, it’s projected that there will be two NPs for every five physicians, compared to less than one NP per five physicians in 2016.
Technology will also play a more prominent role in healthcare delivery, alleviating some pressures of an already strained workforce poised to get worse as providers continue to exit the industry. A Stanford Medical survey reported that physicians, residents, and medical students believe 30% of their tasks will be automated in the next 20 years
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