After two battle-weary years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare practices were thrown yet another nasty curveball in 2021 when “the Great Resignation” reared its ugly head. In August 2021 alone, 4.3 million Americans in all sectors quit their jobs largely due to the physical, economic, and emotional impact of the virus.
The so-called “Big Quit” has hit healthcare organizations especially hard with one in five healthcare employees resigning and nearly 4 percent more quit their jobs than in 2020. Among those who have stayed on, 31 percent have considered leaving. As a result, 76 percent of practices reported changing operations in 2021 to cope with staffing shortages.
And the phenomenon isn’t isolated to any particular field of healthcare. One in three owner dentists said they needed more staff to see the same number of patients compared to before COVID. Thirty-five percent of dental practices have recently or are currently recruiting a dental hygienist. And nine out of 10 practices said it was “extremely” or “very” challenging to fill open positions compared to before the pandemic.
What’s causing the mass exodus?
Though the pandemic may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, there’s no single reason that tens of thousands of healthcare workers have chosen to leave their jobs. Significant numbers of frontline workers have left due to burnout following seemingly endless months of stress and heightened workloads from providing care during the coronavirus.
Many who have left also cite poor pay, layoffs, and conflicts with work/life balance as their children transitioned to remote learning to stay safe. For others, COVID lockdowns and closures were an opportunity to rethink their priorities, mull career changes, or elect to retire early.
How are staff shortages impacting practices?
In the aftermath of the Great Resignation, practices are finding it increasingly difficult to adequately engage with patients and deliver the level of quality care and experience they’ve come to expect. Fewer staff, including front office staff members, means heavier workloads, more frantic scheduling tasks, and more time spent on phones as opposed to assisting in-office patients. Just getting confirmations and reminders out to patients has become a tall order, not to mention things like recall that can eliminate gaps in care while increasing practice revenue.
To cope, many practices are forced to adjust their operating hours, reduce services, and in some cases even turn patients away. An MGMA poll found that nearly three in four medical practices rank staffing as their biggest challenge heading into the New Year.
How can practices leverage technology to bridge the staffing gap?
Though some practices are cross-training employees or hiring part-time assistants to keep up with patient volumes, the most effective route to reach more patients and create greater operational efficiencies is technology. Only through digital tools that allow office staff to automate many of the repetitive and mundane tasks of the appointment workflow can practices accommodate more patients and continue to grow their business.
The following are four best practices for providers to book more appointments, get more confirmations, and increase revenue with fewer staff resources:
- Automation: The right technology solutions can be a team multiplier when it comes to automatically sending out personalized confirmations and reminders after a patient books an appointment. Practices that send automated reminders at a proven cadence saw a 156 percent increase in appointment confirmations.This digital communication capability includes rescheduling, pre-visit instructions, intake, surveys, and bill pay. Automation allows practices to reach more patients, more efficiently and effectively while minimizing the amount of time staff spend on phones. It also drives productivity for recall when staff reach out to schedule preventive or chronic care management visits. Automated recare ensures patients don’t fall through the cracks and helps practices fill their schedules. In the past two years, patients’ desire for more automated communications with healthcare practices increased to 84 percent.
- Enhanced communication via texting: Modern patient relationship management (PRM) platforms include features that enable practices to reach today’s patients where they are. In 2022, that means via texting. Nearly 80 percent of patients want to receive texts from practices and almost 75 percent want to be able to send texts to their providers. At the same time, the response rate for text messages is 209 percent higher than it is for phone calls. Patients want their communication to be easy, fast, and convenient, and texting is the most efficient way to fill that need. Automated text appointment reminders, confirmations, and other messages allow practices to connect with more patients in less time than emails or phone calls. Adding real-time two-way texting means patients can easily reschedule and ask questions while freeing up staff from time-consuming phone calls.
- Telehealth: Virtual health became a lifeline during the pandemic and it had lasting power. While telehealth doesn’t work for all specialties and all appointment types, many patients found the appointment option as practical and effective as practices themselves. Sixty percent of patients expected to continue to use a mix of telehealth and in-office appointments even after the pandemic is passed. The ability to connect with patients from the convenience of their home or office also reduces the amount of time practices spend per appointment while reducing the costs of each visit so practitioners and staff can see more patients.
- Newsletters: Automatically emailed newsletters personalized to each patient are an economical way to market a practice and deliver important scheduling information, practice updates, and other important messaging. For large and multi-location organizations, they’re well suited for maintaining brand voice, keeping messaging consistent across the organization, and reducing staff workloads. Eighty-five percent of patients like getting newsletters from their healthcare practices. Newsletters can be an effective tool to help practices cast a wider patient engagement net and interact with their entire patient list.
Healthcare practices can successfully navigate the difficulties of staff shortages caused by the pandemic. But they’ll have to be nimble, innovate, and utilize technology such as patient engagement solutions to complement and amplify the effectiveness and efficiencies of team members. The implementation of leading technologies will enable practices to reach more patients, book more appointments, increase revenue, and maintain a competitive edge.