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How To Navigate Healthcare’s Labordemic Through Virtual Care

May 28, 2024
Article written by Dr. Corey Scurlock, MD, MBA

Navigating Healthcare Labor Shortages with Virtual Care Solutions.

View on Forbes.com here

Healthcare is a labor-intensive industry and labor costs—including salaries, benefits and training expenses for healthcare professionals—constitute a massive portion of these expenditures. The healthcare industry therefore faces a significant challenge labeled recently by Fitch Ratings as the "labordemic," marked by the urgent need to control these escalating expenses.

It's a powerful word, labordemic; it conjures the memories and emotions of being a physician during Covid-19 and still applies now as we construct the ideal post-pandemic recovery model. Despite an uptick in hospital volumes, which have largely recovered from the initial hit during the pandemic, today's hospital struggles in margin management.

According to the American Hospital Association, staffing shortages are exacerbated by hospital patients who are increasingly sicker and whose cases are more medically complex than before the pandemic. This means a sicker population that requires longer inpatient stays are being cared for by a more resource-constrained clinical workforce and the demand is driving up labor costs and leading to burnout. Bain & Company's U.S. Clinician Burnout Survey reported one-quarter of clinicians surveyed are considering switching careers and 40% lack resources to operate at full potential. In response to the labordemic, many hospitals are investing in technology and innovative solutions, such as virtual care.

Doing More With Less

To optimize operations, healthcare providers must do more with less, therefore they must provide higher quality at a lower cost. Implementing virtual care can reduce the need for traditional in-person consultations and on-site personnel. This, in turn, reduces the demand for infrastructure as more patients are conducting their visits in a virtual platform. As a result, providers can be more accessible but at a lower cost.

In "Period of Renaissance for the High Acuity Telehealth Market," Signify, an independent market research firm, examined a few key areas as they relate to the labordemic: tele-observation/tele-sitting, tele-ICU, clinical surveillance, encounter-based clinical examinations/medical support and virtual nursing.

But before hospitals can adopt virtual care programs, they need to examine their existing framework for care and implement strategic changes.

Preparing For The Shift Toward Virtual Care

Streamline

In order to free up personnel for virtual care, look to automate mundane, repetitive tasks. McKinsey & Company identified a potential 10%-20% time savings for nurses through digital automation, and the 2023 KLAS Healthcare Operations Report (paywall) revealed over 90% of healthcare workers prioritize technology consolidation for operational efficiency. Meanwhile, Bain & Company's 2023 Healthcare Provider IT Report revealed providers express a preference for fewer vendors, especially electronic health record providers, for new functionality before evaluating new vendors and offerings.

Address Burnout

Front-line workers face physical, mental and financial strain—all of which can contribute to burnout. Virtual care can aid with job retention by allowing for more flexibility. In some cases, providers can work from home on nights or weekends. Virtual platforms can also eliminate geographical constraints.

By the same token, virtual care can democratize access to medical services, allowing providers to reach patients who may live in remote rural areas, where hospitals are hours away, or see more patients in urban areas that sometimes face overcrowding. This broadens the reach of healthcare providers, allowing them to have a greater impact.

By providing clinicians with the tools and resources necessary for remote patient care, virtual care solutions can empower healthcare professionals to deliver high-quality services while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Educate Patients

Virtual care has become more adapted through the increase in telehealth, remote monitoring, patient portals, virtual rounding and virtual nursing. But as with most things, patient education is vital to the success of the types of care being implemented.

Be consistent in your messaging and content and practice engagement and activation. This is dependenton myriad factors, but isn't limited to age, education and socioeconomic factors. We've seen the most success with aligning communication to social media channels to make it as consumer-friendly as possible.

In closing, the labordemic demands innovative approaches in healthcare. Providers can create long-term solutions by embracing virtual care, investing in telehealth platforms (both in cost and educating the user) and creating workflows where vendor management is consolidated and automated tasks are delegated to AI or lend themselves to IT solutions. Virtual care can create a better work-life balance for workers while offering a sustainable focus on patient care.

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