BroadPath Blog

January 18, 2023 by Carol Verderese

Staffing Shortages Are Bad for Our Health

The Covid-19 pandemic intensified a healthcare workforce crisis long in the making. Even before the pandemic, the United States lacked enough doctors to meet the country’s healthcare needs—the shortage of doctors in 2019 was around 20,000, and this deficit could reach 124,000 by 2034, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.  Approximately 1.4 million healthcare jobs were lost early in the pandemic, and although many have since returned, healthcare employment remains below pre-pandemic levels.

With fewer workers, clinician burnout, which was already high, is rapidly increasing. According to a survey conducted during the first 2 years of the pandemic, 63% of nearly 2,500 physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout compared with 44% in 2017 and 46% in 2011. A larger survey of healthcare workers in various roles found that 1 in 3 physicians and nurses reported a clear intention to reduce work hours, and nearly 2 in 5 nurses and 1 in 4 physicians intend to leave their jobs altogether, citing burnout, stress, workload, fear of infection, anxiety, and depression as key factors.


Ripple Effects

These trends have serious ripple effects. The New England Journal of Medicine reported, for instance, that the number of central line-associated bloodstream infections rose 28% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, while fall rates increased by 17%. Similarly, the ECRI—an organization that analyzes patient safety data—cited staffing shortages and healthcare workers’ mental health as the top two patient safety concerns for 2022. Researchers warned that, without interventions, “the chaos and understaffing in hospitals and other healthcare settings seen over the last two years could become the new normal for the foreseeable future.”

Staffing shortages also make it far more expensive to care for hospitalized patients. Expanded reliance on contract staff, especially travel nurses, is driving expenses upward, with hospitals seeing a 37% increase in labor expenses from pre-pandemic levels. The American Hospital Association called the workforce shortage in hospitals a “national emergency” in a letter sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and in certain parts of the country hospitals have closed or scaled back services.

And it’s not just clinical staff that’s dwindling: Finding qualified applicants for non-clinical positions is similarly difficult in part because of the “Great Resignation” and competitive pay from other industries. In one recent survey of more than 400 healthcare finance leaders, nearly 60% reported having 100 or more vacancies across all hospital operations. Almost 20% had more than 600 open roles.

It bears noting, too, that this problem predates the pandemic: A 2018 survey by the Medical Group Management Association found that more than 60% of respondents couldn’t find enough qualified applicants for positions ranging from front-office staff to medical billers and coders. Shortfalls like these set the stage for unsatisfying interactions with patients and repeated collections and claims errors.


The Way Forward

In a setting as critical as healthcare, there’s no margin for error, particularly when it comes to supporting clinical staff to help patients get better. A recent report by the healthcare management consulting company KaufmanHall singles out workforce issues as a primary pressure point that is likely to persist without larger structural change. The authors call for “promoting resources to ensure clinical staff can operate at the top of their license and eliminating waste and rework that take away from time spent with patients.”

Progress will depend in part on moving away from an “own and control” mentality. Outsourcing or offshoring certain non-clinical functions—including patient access, claims processing, prior authorizations, and provider services, all requiring discernment across a wide range of challenges—is part of this shift. Indeed, only 37% of the hospital and health system leaders interviewed for the KaufmanHall report said they were not pursuing outsourced solutions, and one respondent stressed that her organization looks for partners—not vendors.

We at BroadPath have long believed that having a trusted managed services partner with deep industry experience is the key to finding solutions within the complex infrastructure of healthcare. Our customized support for health plans and systems of all sizes is guided by a world-class team of work-from-home experts who can adapt to your unique patient niche and demographics. By engaging a third-party partner with a well-honed perspective on change within the healthcare industry—and a granular understanding of daily pain points—your organization can surpass past performance even as the expectations of employees, patient populations, and the labor market continue to evolve.