As labor shortages create financial + quality pressures, hospitals are turning to virtual support strategies and better connectivity

Hospitals, especially those serving rural areas, are facing major economic challenges and labor shortages. The current cost of contract staff is unsustainable. In addition, analysts anticipate that by 2025, 47 percent of the healthcare workforce may leave the profession.

During a Becker's Hospital Review roundtable sponsored by T-Mobile for Business, executives from hospitals and health systems nationwide discussed the financial and talent challenges at their organizations. They shared how telehealth and other forms of technology-based connectivity can improve patient care and employee satisfaction.
Three key takeaways were:

1. COVID-19 exacerbated the healthcare labor shortage. During the pandemic, rural hospitals were competing with larger, better-funded healthcare organizations for talent. In particular, the high cost of travel nurses has taken its toll. "Prior to COVID, we had no travel nurses, then at one point during the pandemic we had 55," the president and CEO of a rural, tertiary care facility in the Midwest said. "We went from paying $85 per hour for a travel nurse to $165 per hour for a med surg nurse and $200 for an ICU nurse . . . There aren't many patients you can care for that will cover your expenses in this situation."

A five-hospital healthcare system in the Southeast is also grappling with labor shortages and the fallout of high staffing costs during the pandemic. At one point during COVID-19, it had 450 travel nurses. To mitigate labor expenses, the system has dropped nursing designations like the Magnet Recognition Program. "We used to only hire BSN nurses, but that reduced the pool of applicants," the director of nursing said. "Now we allow associate degree nurses to apply, and we've brought back LPNs." This organization has also launched initiatives like a nurse residency and an internal travel nurse program.

2. Telehealth and virtual support services deliver expertise at the bedside. A children's hospital in the Pacific Northwest deployed a robust telehealth program for ambulatory care and for behavioral health in urgent situations. "Between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., we don't have mental health evaluation coverage in the ED," the children's hospital nursing director said. "During those hours, we roll in a telehealth cart and a provider dials in. We don't pay overtime, since someone is willing to call in from home."

A hospital in rural Appalachia recently implemented tele-neurology, as well as tele-ICU services. "This has been a huge benefit for patients and staff," the hospital's human resources director said. "If patients receive tPA or TNK after a stroke, we can keep them at our hospital, which we weren't able to do before. The tele-neuro staff rounds on them daily using a [mobile connectivity] cart. It has worked wonders."

Telehealth also creates a better experience for physicians. "Our telemedicine for stroke care program saves neurologists from coming in at all hours of the night," the president and CEO of a health system in the Southeast noted. "That way, they are less fatigued for their day jobs."

3. To attract and retain staff, healthcare systems are expanding benefits, including connectivity. Many organizations are adding benefits to help employees deal with personal expenses, such as smartphones, mobile phone service and even home internet service.

A large rural health system in the Great Plains gives employees a discount on all mobile phones, accessories and phone service. "For healthcare employees, multiline mobile service is essential to maintain HIPAA compliance," said Christine Gall, DrPH, the head of healthcare product marketing at T-Mobile for Business. "If a provider uses a personal cellular device for work purposes, they can separate their professional and personal activities using two totally separate numbers on the same device."

To learn more about Becker's virtual events, click here

Copyright © 2023 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars