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The whole picture: Exploring the lesser-known effects of staffing shortages

From small practices to large health systems, staffing shortages are affecting healthcare delivery organizations around the world. With COVID-19 and user burnout that’s so prevalent across the industry (and compounded by the pandemic), shortages in teaching faculty for new nurses, and a rapidly aging “Baby Boomer” population, there is an immense strain on our healthcare systems. It is continuing to manifest itself in many ways globally with salary reform, new staffing models with travel resources, M&A secondary to financial losses, concerns about staff safety, large strikes in the UK, and in some rare cases, facility closures.

At Altera, we’re committed to partnering with hospitals and practices to ensure next-level healthcare is within reach by achieving more every day. I want to explore some of the less talked-about ways a staffing shortage can affect your organization.

Hospital length of stay

With fewer clinicians and staff, it can take longer to discharge patients from hospitals. The consequences of this are twofold. First, this increases risks to patients themselves, as longer hospital stays increase the likelihood of developing complications, such as healthcare-acquired infections, slower recovery and mental health concerns. Secondly, organizations are often left financially responsible for the excessive days of care as Medicare reimbursements are fixed amounts based on diagnosis and severity, not the actual length of stay. Complications could also result in additional financial burdens and penalties under CMS’s Value-Based Purchasing Program.

Increased admission requests to Telemetry beds

Hospitals suffering from nursing shortages may see an uptick in admissions to telemetry beds from their Emergency Rooms. Telemetry beds are equipped to continuously monitor patients. This information is transmitted to a central monitor being watched by a telemetry certified nurse, who may not be on site. Typically, these higher levels of patient monitoring beds are reserved for higher acuity patients. When Emergency Care providers or Admitting teams sense staff shortages on lower acuity floors, they may place lower acuity patients on a higher-level Telemetry bed to provide extra monitoring vigilance but inadvertently exacerbate resource shortage and increase the cost of care. In some cases, the extra cost is considered unnecessary by payers and is passed onto the healthcare organizations and patients.

Difficulties with onboarding

Staffing shortages aren’t just limited to providers. Many organizations are also struggling to fill administrative roles. This combination of staffing inefficiencies can have a cascading effect on an organization’s onboarding process. New hires may not receive proper support as they learn new programs and processes, or they may feel ignored by a staff that’s already overwhelmed in other areas. A poor onboarding process can lead to lower productivity levels in new employees and even contribute to a higher turnover rate.

Huge backlogs in IT

As mentioned above, staffing shortages in healthcare extend far past only providers. There are shortages on every level, including administrative and IT. With fewer IT staff members to manage routine updates, hardware support and help desks (just to name just a few), organizations may find that it takes longer to address other issues (such as workflow optimization). Not only does this affect the overall productivity of the providers, but inefficient workflows are a key factor in provider burnout.

Achievement starts with preparation

If you’ve noticed any of these trends in your own organization, it’s time to take action. Organizations may not be able to control the factors creating recent staffing shortages, but they can do everything in their power to support the staff they do have. Our experts put together a comprehensive workbook that can help you assess where your organization stands, learn strategies to reduce the impact of staffing shortages and review other barriers potentially bringing down your organization’s productivity.

Learn more and download the workbook here.


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