A hybrid care model can help hospitals avoid having too few healthcare workers. Or too many.
The healthcare industry has long struggled to cope with workforce shortages. But under pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic, the problem has gotten steadily worse. Many medical practitioners are exhausted and on the verge of burnout. According to the AMA, about one in five physicians are thinking about slashing their hours or even throwing in the towel.
In mid-2021, the Association of American Medical Colleges published a comprehensive outlook for physician supply and demand through 2034. Consulting demographic and other trends, including the fact that many physicians are approaching retirement age, the report projects that by 2034 there will be a “shortage of primary care physicians between 17,800 and 48,000” and, in non-primary care specialties, “between 21,000 and 77,100 physicians.”
The outlook for nurses is comparable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 275,000 additional nurses will be needed from 2020 to 2030. Indeed, employment opportunities for nurses are growing at a faster rate than employment opportunities in any other profession.
But shortages of healthcare workers are already severe. The healthcare industry needs more of all kinds of workers, including nurses, housekeepers, and workers in ancillary clinician services and other critical departments.
Hybrid care helps hospitals and other facilities flex up capacity and save money.
For patients, staffing shortages lead to poor patient experience and unfavorable outcomes; for facilities, they lead to lost revenue, high employee turnover, even closure.
Implementing a hybrid care model that combines virtual care with on-site care alleviates staffing shortages in four major ways: by improving productivity, optimizing capacity, improving patient flow, and paring costs.
For many tasks, using virtual resources is more productive than using on-site resources. Medical-surgical nurses, for instance, have been shown to walk almost five miles in a typical shift. And some time motion studies indicate substantial amounts of time wasted in transit to see patients. By having virtual resources available on demand, as needed, hospitals and other care settings can reduce such wasted time and increase nurse productivity.
As an aside, an aspect of this industry that is driving many health care workers to retire is the demanding, oftentimes grueling nature that is inherent in onsite clinical work. Virtual work opens up a whole world of opportunity, one that might have nurses choosing to stay in the workforce longer than they would have otherwise.
Patient flows have always been unpredictable. Trying to match staffing levels with future needs is often a roll of the dice, and it’s easy to do the exact wrong thing, which is costly. Ending up with too few workers means more overtime, more stress, and more burnout. Ending up with too many workers wastes precious staffing capacity — and funds — that cannot be recovered.
One way hospital can manage capacity better is by using its own historical data and predictive indicators. d2i’s performance analytics solutions for hospital and emergency medicine help you to align capacity more precisely with demand. Together, analytics-informed alignment and the ability to call on telehealth resources serve to prevent many capacity-related problems before they start.
Improving Patient Flow
A big part of a positive patient experience is reasonable wait times. In high-flow areas like the emergency department, staff shortages create bottlenecks that frustrate both patients and clinicians. With the help of tele-ED physicians, patient triage, diagnostics, and disposition can move along more quickly. Result: less crowding, shorter wait times, fewer delays in care. Access to specialists through telehealth reduces wait times and boarding times as well.
With the severe shortage of nurses, tele-rounding by virtual nurses for those patients boarded in the ED can help to free up on-site nurses to care for patients who require active care. Such an approach may also encourage retired nurses to return to the workforce for this type of less strenuous work.
Successfully matching capacity with demand saves money by reducing overtime, reducing the need to hire costly temporary staff, reducing the frequency with which ED patients leave without being seen, and increasing productivity. Even a small increase in left without being seen (LWBS) numbers has a huge impact. For example, an ED with 50,000 annual visits and a 1% LWBS rate (which is comparatively good), can expect to lose about $450,000 a year.
At d2i, we’re working with telemedicine platforms to make the hybrid care model even more data-driven and robust. Contact d2i to learn more about our suite of analytics solutions, solutions that are helping emergency departments and software companies like EmOpti achieve new levels of productivity and patient satisfaction.