As we move into 2022, healthcare organizations nationwide are facing new and unique provider staffing challenges. Ongoing COVID surges, a backlog of elective procedures, and changing patient preferences are all combining to create a perfect storm that will push many organizations to the limit in their ability to meet demand. Here’s our perspective on three key factors you should be thinking about when planning for your healthcare provider staffing in 2022.
1. Telehealth’s role in integrated care
One of the biggest shifts that resulted from the pandemic was the wider adoption of telehealth. Where telehealth visits represented less than 1% of patient visits pre-pandemic, that surged to nearly 40% during the height of the pandemic. However, rather than returning to pre-pandemic levels, telehealth visits now hover around 13-17% and even higher for some specialties.
According to Matt Brown, CHG Healthcare’s vice president of telehealth, it’s time for healthcare leaders to consider changing their view of telehealth from transactional to strategic — specifically, integrating telehealth into the care management model.
“Telehealth has shifted from a transactional marketplace toward a very comprehensive virtual care management mindset that’s going to be incorporated into a long-term care management strategy, not just the one-off quick appointments they required before,” Brown says.
“During the early days of the pandemic, telehealth was adopted out of necessity and a state of reaction, but we are moving into a state of stability and evolving to a place where we must be more strategic in how we leverage it,” says Brown. “I believe we’ll see people really start to thoughtfully figure out how they’re going to implement telehealth into their strategic roadmap.”
Brown says this means being creative in how you fill virtual schedules by engaging physicians — including locums — who are willing to be flexible to cover telehealth shifts. He also points out the benefits of a physician being able to see more patients over the course of an hour, as compared to in-person visits. This may ultimately mean changing your mindset to recognize a shift in consumer preference and investing in telehealth as a critical channel for your organization’s long-term success.
“I would challenge healthcare leaders to think about the revenue models and opportunities that telehealth creates and recognize that we need to continue to lean into those models as an industry,” Brown says. “You have to balance telehealth with your on-premises work. Don’t try to replace everything with telehealth. But do prepare, invest, and lean into what makes sense.”
2. Locums as a revenue generator
For healthcare systems that are looking to restore lost revenue, Thomas Lanvers, VP of enterprise client solutions for CHG Healthcare, urges healthcare leaders to establish processes that leverage locum tenens providers as revenue generators.
Lanvers says the organizations he works with that most successfully maximize revenue from locums have a proven method for validating a locums need.
“You need to have a playbook and then you need the flexibility to deviate from that playbook when necessary,” Lanvers says. “The best-in-class organizations have an ROI analysis and approval process for each locums they bring in. It’s formulaic, so it’s less emotional and more data-driven.”
Equally as important, Lanvers says, is a well-defined process for consistently enrolling locums with payors.
“A good example of a defined process is a health system that says, ‘When we bring in new locums, we are going to enroll them with our top five payors regardless of the duration of the assignment.’ It wouldn’t occur to you to bring in a permanent hire and not get them through the enrollment process, and it probably shouldn’t occur to you not to do that with locums,” says Lanvers. “Figure out the payors that handle the highest percentage of your billables. Understand the math and how to follow the math. That’s the tip of the iceberg, but that’s the part of the iceberg worth the most amount of money.”
Lanvers recommends prioritizing enrollment with high-cost, high-yield specialties such as neurosurgery, cardiovascular surgery, and oncology, and advises delegating or outsourcing enrollment applications, where possible. And he has witnessed the difference it makes when healthcare leadership takes a sincere interest in locums as a revenue generator.
“This might sound simple, but caring about it matters,” says Lanvers. “If it’s important to you, if it’s important to your organization and your C-suite not to leave dollars on the table, you’ll find more success. The best organizations put a stake in the ground and set goals at the highest level to fight for every dollar. It means their departments are collaborating because there’s a higher organizational mission they’re all working to achieve.”
In this endeavor, Lanvers cautions against adopting a purely cost-cutting mindset and instead focusing on activities that maximize revenue.
“When times get tough, the tendency is to cut everywhere and to reduce the amount of spend,” Lanvers says. “But you’re cutting into the muscle when you start to cut the physicians. A hospital without physicians does not have billable revenue, period. Organizations need to change the mindset toward maximizing the amount they earn, because there are more dollars there. Cutting costs is always going to be part of the equation, but don’t jump over dollars to grab pennies.”
3. Meeting coverage needs in a provider shortage market
Providing adequate coverage in a high-demand, provider shortage market may be the single biggest healthcare staffing challenge of 2022. However, there are strategies that healthcare organizations can use to meet coverage demands.
“As with any industry, when a job market is this highly competitive, you have to create a great experience for the candidate — and that means a good working environment and competitive pay,” says Luke Woodyard, president of Weatherby Healthcare. “In this market, you also have to move quickly once you find the right candidate. You have to act with a sense of urgency, and you have to be clear about what you have to offer the provider — not just from a salary and benefits perspective, but also from a cultural standpoint.”
Having a pool of locum physicians readily available to help fill coverage gaps at short notice is a key strategy to protect your organization against coverage shortfalls.
“In this market, it’s wise to assume your permanent physicians are getting called and recruited,” says Richard Kviring, Weatherby Healthcare vice president. “If you’re putting all your eggs in one basket, you’re going to find yourself short at some point. It’s important to have options if you end up short, and a pool of credentialed locums can help ensure you’ll have the coverage you need.”
“Now, more than ever, locums must be considered as a staffing solution and part of an overarching staffing plan, because health care systems will not be able to meet all their staffing needs on their own,” says Mike DePaolis, senior vice president of Weatherby Healthcare.
Although there are no simple solutions to the healthcare staffing shortage of 2022, leveraging locum tenens providers more effectively can help generate revenue and provide needed coverage.