New shifts in healthcare management, staffing, and retention

Dr. Vin Gupta, MD, MPA, MSc

Pulmonary/Critical Care Physician

New shifts in healthcare management, staffing, and retention

5 October 2022 | 6min

Quick Takes

  • The world of healthcare management is ever-changing and demands of care among patient communities have increased due to the pandemic

  • Solutions focused on the quality of life of healthcare professionals are key to the success of healthcare systems

  • Healthcare innovation is a driving force in management and excellence across care professionals and teams

In 2016, the World Health Organization predicted that there would be a global shortage of approximately 18 million health workers by 2030.1 While significant steps are being made by healthcare management to reduce this shortage, we cannot ignore the further damage and setbacks created by COVID-19. 

Dr. Vin Gupta, health technology executive, policy expert, and medical analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, shares his thoughts on the current strategies and potential areas where healthcare leaders may focus to relieve staffing pressures and manage the increasing demand for care effectively.  

The shortage in our healthcare workforce

HT: What are the main driving forces behind staffing shortages? 

Dr. Vin Gupta:  There are many reasons why there are staffing shortages across the world. This is something that impacts every single country – not enough healthcare workers. Not just doctors, but nurses, respiratory technicians, medical assistants, and community health workers. There are just not enough of us, and it’s a problem, and it’s not going to get better anytime soon. 

Our healthcare workforce problem is just one of many things that COVID-19 has put a microscope on. We don’t have enough people in the pipeline in nursing schools or in medical schools to replenish the workforce that is in transition and leaving the healthcare workforce, in part because of retirement and some due to burnout. By 2025, the United States is expecting that nearly 50% of its entire healthcare workforce will leave their positions and there’s no plan in place to replace them.2 

COVID-19 hastened the burnout phenomenon across the world and the need for healthcare services has never been higher given the growing population in most of these countries. 

Increased accessibility for education among healthcare-focused careers 

Dr. Vin Gupta:  Countries that don’t have a seamless way to educate and train future generations of healthcare workers should expect these dynamics to worsen due to the lack of progressive policies enabling greater education access in the healthcare fields. In the UK for instance, there are options for individuals that want to enter the field of medicine as quickly as possible after secondary school, with as little debt as possible. 

In the UK, if you want to be a physician, you can go there directly from secondary school. In the United States, it’s a journey that’s far longer and riddled with far more debt. Every country can benefit from making sure such debt is relieved, thereby making it easier for people to access this type of training. 

HT: Could you provide a blueprint of actionable management steps that healthcare executives could take in order to secure the retention of their current staff and attract new talent? 

Dr. Vin Gupta:   Healthcare executives of large care delivery organizations should be thinking big about what the future healthcare worker wants in order to have a fulfilling healthcare career. The world has changed, but it’s not necessarily the same thing that prior generations of healthcare workers, doctors, and nurses, were seeking. We live in just a fundamentally different world now, especially in the area of medicine. 

Best practices for attracting and retaining healthcare staff 

1 Encourage flexibility in clinical workflow, allowing a combination of virtual care & hospital-based time to avoid employee burnout and provide new career opportunities
2 Adopt innovations in the digital care space that make it easier for healthcare workers to reach more patients while practicing at the top of their medical licenses. This includes utilizing asynchronous telemedicine solutions and encouraging patients to leverage regulator-approved (eg. FDA) remote monitoring devices and at-home testing platforms, empowering and increasing patient engagement in their own health engaging 
3 Establish new roles such as chief medical officer and chief innovation officer to ensure the voice of the clinician is heard at the highest levels across all organizations, even traditionally non-healthcare entities. 

Dr. Vin Gupta:    Every executive loves to talk about innovation and it’s something that is a very common theme across countries and different organizations. So it’s important to make sure you have leaders and management that are hiring the best leaders that can help power healthcare innovation strategies and the best patient solutions. 

The workforce wants to be on the cutting edge of care delivery. People feel invigorated and mission-oriented the more they are leading from the front and on the leading edge of innovation. This allows organizations to grow, build and scale with meaningful pilots, but also requires smart leadership that has the right experience in digital health. 

There are many leaders out there right now that come from a digital health background that would be useful hires for large healthcare organizations and governments. And it’s critical that healthcare executives think broadly about their top-level senior management team in order to really take action on some of these key initiatives that will help with retention.

HT: What is the industry doing to address the issue of staffing shortages?

Dr. Vin Gupta: From a leadership standpoint, providing hazard pay for those that were on the front lines of COVID-19 has helped, as well as increasing salaries across the board by a certain percentage. This has been a key way to show value and appreciation. Many healthcare organizations and governments have not adopted these types of monetary policies, and that’s been problematic.

There has also been some effort to provide mental health services to healthcare workers, although that is narrow thinking to me because this is not just about depression or mental health in isolation. If you’re an executive, that burnout is real, because medicine is hard, especially in the brick-and-mortar setting. 

It is a hard job and has become even harder, given all the pressures on providers, especially during the pandemic. Our patients are much more literate about their own health now and they expect more in the way of face-to-face interaction, explanations, etc., and this all impacts the healthcare teams within hospital facilities. 

Innovation solutions for well-balanced staff and good patient care 

Dr. Vin Gupta: Happier staff means happier patients, and likely a healthier business. Hiring more staff in what is a constrained environment, to begin with, is going to be challenging, so making sure you have innovative strategies to deliver care at scale with strained resources will be important. The role of technology in the future of healthcare is helping to address this challenge. 

Lastly, It’s key that we embrace innovation to provide different opportunities for career growth among healthcare workers. Perhaps some staff want to be virtual clinicians the entire time, to help power the virtual healthcare offerings, which is okay. Or maybe they want a 50/50 balance or an 80/20 balance. These are the types of diverse career opportunities that are truly going to help address burnout in a more holistic way. 

Care delivery is difficult, and we, as management, have to do more to help and support our healthcare workers. Innovation is actually one of the key tools here that has been underutilized and can actually be quite helpful – not only in improving care delivery for our patients but in making the process of care delivery much more enjoyable and less stressful for our providers.

Want to hear more from Dr. Vin Gupta, then click here to find out about the Trends in telehealth and virtual care following the pandemic, or watch the full video Healthcare in a post-pandemic world: From trends in telehealth to staffing shortages.

Dr. Vin Gupta, MD, MPA, MSc MD, MSc, MPA is a practicing pulmonologist and an affiliate professor at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. In parallel, he is a Commissioned Officer (O-4, Major) in the United States Air Force Medical Reserve Corps, serving as the Officer-in-Charge of the Critical Care Air Transport Capability at Joint-Base Lewis McChord. Outside of his civilian and military clinical responsibilities, Dr. Gupta serves as Chief Medical Officer of New Health Initiatives at Amazon and a part-time medical analyst for NBC News. He’s held prior research roles at the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention and World Bank, focused on pandemic influenza preparedness. Dr. Gupta received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University, Medical Doctorate from Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. He has active board certification in Internal Medicine, Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine and completed his clinical training at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

References

  1. Bonoil et al. (2022). BMJ Global Health, 7:e009316
  2. Kelly. (2022). Article avaliable from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2022/04/19/new-survey-shows-that-up-to-47-of-us-healthcare-workers-plan-to-leave-their-positions-by-2025/?sh=5f88f8bd395b [Accessed October 2022]