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A Healthcare Staffing Shortage Looms. Here’s How Technology Can Help

The evolution of American healthcare has placed an emphasis on value-based care and care coordination. That sounds abstract, but this shift in priorities has tangibly and fundamentally changed the way healthcare providers approach hiring.

On its own, a novel sector-level approach to hiring is pretty important, but it’s the bigger context that makes this a seismic change: America is about to lose hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers, for whom there are no apparent replacements. The healthcare staffing shortage is already affecting many facilities.

As a result, the tools and strategies healthcare hiring managers use will become critical to care provision in the next decade. This includes the digital tools that make it easier than ever to gather information, compare candidates and analyze skill sets.

By focusing on a hospital’s or clinic’s particular needs and organizational cultures, hiring managers and recruiters can fine-tune these tools to help identify, hire and onboard those candidates most likely to provide the biggest contribution to the team.

Healthcare Staffing Shortages and Their Impact on Hiring

Within the next decade, the US could face a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians, according to a study from the Association of American Medical Colleges. The twin pressures of overall population growth and a disproportionate segment of that population entering its elderly years compel a need for more medical care and more physicians to provide it, says Darrell G. Kirch, MD, president and CEO of the AAMC.

Physicians aren’t the only healthcare staff members who will be increasingly difficult to find. A 2017 study in the Journal of Nursing Regulation by Peter Buerhaus, Ph.D. and fellow researchers predicted that 1 million registered nurses nationwide will retire by 2030. “The departure of such a large cohort of experienced RNs means that patient care settings and other organizations that depend on RNs will face a significant loss of nursing knowledge and expertise that will be felt for years to come,” Buerhaus says.

For hospitals and clinics, the shortage of qualified professionals at all levels of medical care poses challenges for hiring and retention.

A Key Challenge: The Specialist Shortage

Here’s where the push for value-based care dovetails with the predicted shortage of physicians. In response to both pressures, many hospitals and clinics have had to rethink how they address patient needs. Tools like telemedicine allow hospitals and clinics to focus on preventive care, thereby reducing the need for intensive treatment and its associated costs.

While these approaches show promise for primary care, they don’t address the rise in demand for specialists — or the shortage of specialists the US will face in the next decade. At least half of the overall physician shortage predicted between now and 2030 consists of specialist providers, says Janis Orlowski, MD, chief health care officer of the AAMC.

To complicate matters, the demand for specialists isn’t always well-tracked, Orlowski says. That makes it difficult for hospitals and clinics to predict how many specialized staff members they’ll need in the coming years and how difficult it will be to find those practitioners. For instance, while the shortage of psychiatrists is well-documented, the looming shortage of surgeons, particularly in rural areas, isn’t understood as well.

Replacing those specialists will require more than an understanding of each care provider’s  needs. It will also require special attention to recruiting and retention.

healthcare staffing

Choose the Right Tools for Better Hiring

Hiring for cultural fit as well as for relevant skill sets can help improve retention and engagement. For many healthcare facilities, however, hiring for cultural fit can be difficult. For instance, trying to build an employer brand around a commitment to high-quality patient care is tough when every healthcare provider communicates the same commitment

Further, when an organization’s leaders don’t understand its culture or only have a shallow understanding of cultural fit, hiring managers and recruiters often fall back on hiring decisions based on whether they personally like a candidate, says Lauren A. Rivera, an associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University. That process seldom brings together the mix of skills and dedication healthcare organizations need.

Fortunately, help exists. A number of digital tools can help healthcare organizations pinpoint their cultural strengths, eliminate bias and improve the entire hiring process.

Building the Staff You Need

Tools that can help human resources and hiring managers analyze skills sets can also make it easier to find candidates ripe for retraining into essential healthcare positions.

For instance, one Ohio healthcare system sought candidates who had recently lost manufacturing jobs. By leveraging the skills these workers had learned in manufacturing, the healthcare system was able to retrain them quickly into work as diagnostic technicians, says Jason Narlock, senior consultant at Mercer.

The best candidate assessment platforms can focus on skill sets and experience throughout the healthcare space, not merely on technicians or specialists. Such flexibility is essential, as demand for executive talent is also peaking within the healthcare field.

Many of these tools can also identify (and recruit for) the skills and qualities that promote success among a hospital’s or clinic’s executive leadership. By analyzing the profiles of previous leaders, these tools can identify patterns that can help recruiters and hiring managers find a better fit.

By choosing the right tools hiring tools, hospitals and clinics will be able to recruit and retain not only better providers, but also better leadership.

Communicating Your Employer Brand

When candidates consider your hospital or clinic, can they tell what makes your organization stand out from others? What’s the No. 1 reason the people you want should choose to work with you?

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can make a profound difference in how healthcare human resources and recruiting teams understand, build and communicate their employment brands. One option is to use these tools to identify and target the social media sites that promising candidates use most often, thereby allowing teams to spend their time on these platforms and ignore less-valuable sources of potential candidates.

For example, Clover Health analyzed its candidate pool for nurse practitioners and determined that Instagram and Twitter were less effective than highway billboards in creating name recognition or encouraging nurse practitioners to apply, says Rachel Fish, chief administrative officer at Clover Health.

Without the insights that data analysis provides, healthcare recruiters and hiring managers may have difficulty differentiating their organization’s brand or getting that brand message in front of the right candidates. Artificial intelligence, however, can analyze massive data sets to spot patterns and provide the insights these professionals need to recruit and retain top healthcare staff members.

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Provide Support to Improve Retention

Once candidates have been selected and hired, the right onboarding tools can help hospitals and clinics keep the staff they have.

For example, a research team led by Emma Kurnat-Thoma, Ph.D. focused on improving communication and access to information within a Washington, D.C. community hospital. The hospital did this by providing new staff onboarding tools that offered a centralized point where they could ask questions and quickly review policies or other documentation when needed. As new staff adopted the system’s communication tools into their routines, new-hire turnover dropped from 39.1 percent to 18.4 percent.

“The successful reduction in hospital and nurse turnover we achieved was rooted in multidisciplinary engagement of institutional stakeholders, managerial collaboration across departments, and strong support from executive hospital leadership,” Kurnat-Thoma and fellow researchers write.

The research team did not simply add digital tools to the existing program; rather, they sought buy-in from all affected parties, looked at ways to address key challenges in the onboarding program and chose tools thoughtfully in order to achieve improvement goals.

Digital Tools for Specialist Hiring: A Small Step With Big Results

The good news is that healthcare is poised to adapt easily to digital platforms and similar tools in hiring because the field is already using tech to support its values and complete its objectives.

For instance, an Oxford Economics study found that 68 percent of healthcare human resources officers already use tech tools to help staff, compared to 55 percent for non-healthcare industries, Kelly Gooch writes at Becker’s Hospital Review. Healthcare human resources teams were also more confident in their ability to measure employee performance than other industries.

Since the promise of recruiting and retention tools is best realized with strong organizational buy-in, the enthusiasm that healthcare human resources and recruiting teams already show for tech will make it easier to choose and adapt tools that focus on recruitment and retention of crucial specialists.

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