As hospitals and ambulatory sites grapple with the challenges of quality improvement, value-based care, cybersecurity and more, the size and shape of the workforce is changing as technology and imperatives evolve.

Healthcare workforce development: New strategies for new demands

By Mike Miliard
09:00 AM

The healthcare workforce is evolving, often by necessity, thanks to the same gravitational forces that are affecting the rest of the industry and the economy at large: technological advances, competitive market forces, shifting imperatives that demand new skill sets, challenges with job satisfaction and burnout.

Whether they're C-suite leaders, physicians, nurses, IT staff, data scientists, case managers, security pros or revenue cycle, billing and accounting experts, hospitals and health systems large and small are facing an array of challenges when it comes to finding the right people to fit the right roles.

There's a lot that needs doing in healthcare these days, after all – managing the clinical and operational demands of value-based reimbursement, caring for a growing aging population with a shrinking number of doctors and nurses, fighting the good fight against relentless cybersecurity threats – and finding the right employees to do it all is more important than ever.

During July, Healthcare IT News and our sister publication, Healthcare Finance, will explore how hospitals and health systems are managing these challenges – optimizing their workforces and positioning skilled leaders to help drive long-term strategic success in those areas and others.

From the C-suite to the trenches, unique challenges persist

The recent 2019 HIMSS U.S. Leadership and Workforce Survey polled 232 health information and technology leaders from acute and ambulatory providers nationwide to gain some insights about the challenges they're prioritizing and the organizational structures they're putting in place to deal with them.

Surprisingly or not, "hospitals and non-acute providers appear to have very different strategies regarding information and technology leadership and workers," according to the report.

For instance, inpatient sites are much more able to prioritize the hiring of skilled C-suite execs to guide strategic initiatives. But "the absence of information and technology leaders in non-acute organizations is unsettling as it becomes more challenging to advance capabilities in settings without strong executive champions."

Likewise, hospitals and practices also differ substantially when it comes to more rank-and-file employees. The larger inpatient sites "tend to operate environments with fairly extensive opportunities, whereas non-acute providers tend to deal with static workforce demands," according to HIMSS. "The culture that can result from these different settings is something healthcare leaders should take into consideration when developing a staffing strategy."

And health system hiring strategies are indeed shifting as providers face an array of challenges that need skilled and forward-thinking workers to help solve them. The HIMSS report listed the top 10 of these as:

  • Cybersecurity, Privacy, and Security
  • Improving Quality Outcomes Through Health Information and Tech
  • Clinical Informatics and Clinician Engagement
  • Culture of Care and Care Coordination
  • Process Improvement, Workflow, Change Management
  • User Experience, Usability and User-Centered Design
  • Data Science/Analytics/Clinical and Business Intelligence
  • Leadership, Governance, Strategic Planning
  • Safe Info and Tech Practices for Patient Care
  • HIE, Interoperability, Data Integration and Standards

The big hurdle, however, is that many "hospitals are continuing to be negatively impacted by staffing challenges," according to the study. "The negative impacts on providers resulting from paused/scaled back projects are significant enough to at least warrant an exploratory consideration," said HIMSS researchers.

A look at the numbers tells one story: When it comes to workforce vacancy barely one-third 36% of providers polled by HIMSS say they're fully staffed – while more than half (52%) said they have open positions (12% didn't answer or weren't sure).

Indeed, there's plenty of hiring to be done for health systems trying to tackle some of the biggest ongoing strategic challenges.

Even though the size in provider workforces since 2018 increased for 38% of the providers in this year's survey – it stayed the same for 37% and decreased for just 14% – the projection for 2020 is a further expected hiring boost at 34% of providers (compared with a status quo for 42% and a contraction at just 9%).

Still, there's nuance when one considers the differences between inpatient versus ambulatory organizations. While both are more likely to increase their workforces than to decrease them in 2020 (37% and 12% percent of hospitals, respectively, and 26% and 1% of outpatient sites), far more non-acute organizations expect their staff sizes to stand pat than hospitals (51 percent, compared with 38%).

"The variances in staffing growth trajectories evidenced in the two provider groups … has the potential to produce exceedingly different workplace cultures; a fast-paced environment in hospitals and a fairly stable setting in non-acute organizations," according to the HIMSS report. "If true, then it is very possible these settings attract health IT workers with remarkably different needs/wants. Provider organizations looking to stabilize their workforce should take these factors into consideration when developing staff recruitment, retention and development strategies."

What to expect in our Focus on Workforce Development

Over the course of this month, Healthcare IT News and Healthcare Finance will be exploring the many challenges related to staffing and workforce, across many facets of healthcare in the U.S.

We'll examine the industry's labor force spend (the percentage of total budgets may surprise you), and look at how how AI, telehealth and consumerism can help change that equation. We'll learn how to attract top C-suite talent and combat clinician burnout. We'll explore the benefits of apprenticeship programs, and see the strategies some hospitals are using to deal with labor shortages. And much more.

So, as your healthcare organization looks to the fiscal year or remaining calendar year ahead, be sure to check back at HITN and HF during July to learn from thought leaders and industry peers – about the best way to put the best people in the best position to help meet your strategic goals.

Focus on Workforce Development

In July, we'll speak to experts about how they're managing their workforces – not just clinicians, but IT departments, data scientists, care managers, back office staff and others.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.