Patient experience has increasingly become the focus of healthcare processes. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, “Patient experience encompasses the range of interactions that patients have with the healthcare system, including their care from health plans, and from doctors, nurses, and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other health care facilities. As an integral component of healthcare quality, patient experience includes several aspects of healthcare delivery that patients value highly when they seek and receive care, such as getting timely appointments, easy access to information, and good communication with healthcare providers.”
Staffing is critical to executing a high quality patient experience and therefore critical to the success of any healthcare system. In the event that not enough qualified staff is present, not only does patient experience suffer, but there can even be severe impacts on patient care and outcomes.
Healthcare Staffing Crisis
The healthcare staffing crisis is primarily affecting the nursing profession and the current situation is more serious than anything the industry has ever seen before. According to Reuters, “Nursing shortages have occurred in the past, but the current crisis is far worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be more than a million registered nurse openings by 2024, twice the rate seen in previous shortages.”
There are multiple factors contributing to this shortage trend. According to SIA, the shortage of supply is caused by the combination of highly qualified Baby-Boomer nurses retiring in huge numbers and job openings for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations averaging at 624,000 a year. “The retirement wave of Baby-Boomer nurses will create a particular drain on clinical expertise and institutional knowledge, which are critical to quality patient care and organizational success for healthcare providers”
The same article from Reuters also stipulates that, “a faculty shortage and too few nursing school slots has contributed to the problem. Hospitals seek to meet a goal calling for 80% of nursing staff to have a four-year degree by 2020, up from 50% in 2010. They also face more competition with clinics and insurance companies that may offer more flexible hours.”
Healthcare systems now find themselves in a precarious position as they risk compromising on patient care if they are unable to ensure a stable supply of qualified nurses. This puts their staffing supplier at the front and center of their patient experience strategy.
Impacts on Patient Experience and Care
The presence of qualified staff in a hospital is an obvious necessity. According to research done by Benjamin Friedrich, Assistant Professor of Strategy at Kellogg Northwestern, “a sharp reduction in the number of nurses at a facility can have detrimental effects on patients, particularly those residing in nursing homes. And even in hospitals, where staffing systems blunted much of the impact of a nursing shortage, patient care still suffered.”
“As the nurse-to-patient ratio decreases, nurses are under more time pressure,” Friedrich says. This can mean, for example, that patients are not monitored as carefully and acute conditions that may require hospitalization are missed. “They don’t spend as much time with patients, and errors tend to occur.”
His study also linked staffing data with patient records to see the overall effect of the shortage to find the following:
– No impact to annual mortality rate at hospitals due to their staffing suppliers and size advantage
– A 21% increase in the 30-day hospital readmission rate
– A 45% greater chance that a newborn would have to be readmitted due to undiagnosed neonatal jaundice
– A 13% rise in mortality rate at nursing homes for those over 85 years of age
While patient care is the primary consideration, nurses working in under-staffed facilities also reported lower job satisfaction and a higher turnover due to their enormous workload.
Impacts on Healthcare Systems
The legal implications of a healthcare system being understaffed are huge. Understaffed facilities tend to get a reputation for being fundamentally inadequate in the public view. As staffing levels at healthcare facilities is information that is readily available to the public, it can be used as an important point in a lawsuit by plaintiff’s counsel should there be a litigious patient outcome.
According to Caring for the Ages, “Lawsuits attributable to understaffing are already proving expensive. For example, a jury in Kentucky awarded $20 million to the family of a man who suffered a heart attack after allegedly being ignored and untreated for several days. To prevent such lawsuits, it is often not enough to improve staff training or to implement enhanced procedures. In many cases, it may be necessary to increase staffing levels as well as to implement systemic changes.”
The Role of a Staffing Supplier
The ideal healthcare staffing supplier will be able to aid in bridging the gap between supply and demand even in the event of a shortage. Selecting a good supplier is akin to a strategic alliance that has the capability to act as a talent consultant, accurately forecast the institution’s talent demand and come up with viable solutions that facilitate supply.
A good staffing supplier with a lot of experience can even ensure that the fit of individuals they supply are in line with the organization. Suppliers focused on healthcare may have even cultivated access to a credentialed talent pool of nursing and allied health talent, which in fact may not even be available to institutions. Having a good supplier in place can aid institutions in dealing with seasonal demands that require them to scale headcount up or down. They can also be a means for the institution to test and monitor talent before hiring them full time.
What to look for in a Healthcare Staffing Supplier
Healthcare system managers face tough staffing conditions. Many of the problems caused by a staffing shortage can be negated by having a healthcare staffing supplier that is able to provide a steady supply of qualified nurses in shortage conditions. Here are some things healthcare system managers can look for in a stable supplier:
1. Access to Pre-vetted Talent- Because credentialing and background checks are a mandatory part of the healthcare hiring process, finding a supplier who does this very valuable. It shows that they have access to a pre-vetted pool of talent and that they’re able to vouch for the people they send through. This improves the quality of patient care and experience, improving the overall performance of the healthcare system.
2. An Up-to-date Database- Suppliers who have in-house processes that keep tabs on the quality and performance of the talent they supply are able to do a better job of keeping both the talent and client happy.
3. Affiliations with Nursing Schools- Suppliers that target fresh talent and give them opportunities at the start of their careers are able to cultivate high quality talent from the start. This also ensures that they have a steady supply of healthcare staff.
4. Applying Technological Solutions- A supplier who is able to tap into the network between nursing professionals is also a valuable asset. Crowdsourcing referral networks like NurseDeck can uncover passive candidates that might not have been available otherwise.
A reliable healthcare staffing supplier can demonstrably improve the service levels of a healthcare system by enabling access to the right talent. The nursing shortage is a difficult economic problem to solve. However, at an institutional level, many of the problems caused by it can be solved by ensuring that the healthcare staffing supplier given the job reliable and is exploring innovative ways to overcome the shortage.
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