Why Digital Engagement Is Critical to Navigating the Healthcare Labor Shortage

Healthcare providers today face an environment of extraordinary uncertainty. From the spread of the Delta variant to the growing labor shortage, the strains on the nation’s healthcare system are unlike anything we’ve seen in the past 50 years. During a time when so much is unknown, however, one thing is clear: in a volatile healthcare climate, it is vital to provide your patients and staff with a safe digital experience. 

A comprehensive digital engagement strategy gives you the agility to adapt seamlessly to whatever challenges come next. It enables you to ensure and optimize staff productivity, the patient experience, and the safety of everyone in your ecosystem. With a strong digital foundation, you can do more with less – relying on automation to increase efficiency when you need streamlined operations like never before. 

How do digital patient engagement solutions address many of the difficulties currently facing providers?

1.They keep patients and staff safe with virtual self-service. The days of sharing kiosks, tablets, and the dreaded clipboard are over. No matter how many pens and tablets you sanitize, passing materials back and forth in a crowded waiting room does not prioritize the health of your patients and staff. 

Digital engagement solutions give patients the control and flexibility to perform much of the registration process at home. They can schedule appointments in their pajamas, upload documents at 11pm while watching their favorite Netflix show, and obtain estimates before their appointment to prepare financially. It’s easier, more convenient, and, most importantly, safer for everyone involved. It also allows your staff to focus on more important tasks by enabling patients to perform their own basic registration functions.

2. They increase efficiency amid the labor shortage. Almost every industry currently faces a dramatic and growing labor shortage. The United States hit a record-high 9.2 million job openings[1] in June, and according to a CFO survey conducted in Q3 2021, 95% of CFOs of major corporations[2]say that it is harder to find workers for open positions.

Healthcare is no exception. Both clinical and front-office teams are struggling to find, retain, and motivate staff. Existing employees must be empowered to do more with less or face serious consequences; to wit, hospital leaders consider staff shortages riskier than unvaccinated staff.[3] 

I recently visited a PELITAS client whose patient access team turnover has more than doubled in the last eight months. As people decide to opt out of the workforce or find competitive work in other places desperate for talent, such as restaurants, providers like our client don’t have the staff they need to register and interface with patients. 

Digital solutions address this challenge by automating the manual processes that take a significant amount of patient access staff’s time. Automated financial clearance workflows eliminate the people-hours behind scheduling and registering patients at time of service. Registrars no longer have to spend time scanning insurance cards and managing forms and can instead focus on offering a concierge-style experience to patients. 

Our clients that have adopted Virtual Intake Management report that 25-30% of patients adopt the digital platform right out of the gate and that adoption rate grows exponentially as patients acclimate to the ease and flexibility of the solution. That is 25-30% more time for your staff members to focus on higher priority tasks. As a result, organizations see tangible business benefits like:

  • 58% increase in out-of-pocket cost collections, at or prior to service
  • More than 75% of patients being financially cleared before service
  • 15% lower administrative costs through automation and improved accuracy

3. They improve the patient experience. Today’s patients expect an easy and convenient digital experience. Many providers have already taken steps to meet those expectations with applications, portals, and point solutions that target specific purposes or processes. Digital transformation was already briskly underway before the pandemic, and COVID-19 shifted it into overdrive.

Some providers, however, worry that their older patients in particular may have a hard time adopting virtual solutions. After watching folks easily order at restaurants using QR codes and video chat with their grandchildren, I think we have to give them a bit more credit, especially when it comes to their safety and wellbeing. 

With virtual engagement solutions, patients can alert the front desk when they arrive and wait in the safety of their cars instead of the waiting room. They can complete paperwork, upload insurance cards and identification as well as their CDC vaccine card, and understand their financial responsibility on their schedule, at their convenience. They can communicate with patient access staff via text before, during, or after their appointment to ask a question or submit a pharmacy request instead of calling a busy contact center. All of these seemingly small interactions add up to a significantly improved—and differentiated—patient experience.

4. They enable operational efficiencies. In addition to empowering teams with automation and efficiency, virtual engagement solutions give providers the ability to quickly adapt to changing conditions. 

Vaccine distribution is a perfect example. As the CDC recommends that patients receive booster shots, providers need to schedule those appointments appropriately and manage the workflows around communicating with those patients when they arrive. Vaccine distribution will continue to evolve with new variants and requirements, making it critical for providers to have a digital scheduling[4] and workflow management solution to address those needs. 

In today’s uncertain environment, the only option is to plan for the unknown. With a digital engagement strategy, providers can rapidly adjust to changes with the confidence that their people will stay safe, their patients will stay satisfied, and their teams will be able to do more with less. 

Author Bio:

Steven Huddleston is a seasoned revenue cycle executive and the CEO of PELITAS. In 2019 and 2020, PELITAS was named Best in KLAS for its patient access software and technology and currently maintains that position today. With more than 25 years of experience in provider healthcare, Steven has a proven record in leading organizations through periods of significant change, including: accelerating innovation and growth, integrating mergers and acquisitions, and building high-performing teams. 

Prior to joining PELITAS, Steven helped build the investment thesis and identify the acquisitions to launch nThrive and was subsequently appointed President, Service Solutions & Chief Client Officer. Prior to nThrive, Steven was a Managing Director in Accenture’s Healthcare strategy practice, where he worked with not-for-profit provider organizations and private equity-backed portfolio companies to drive business transformation through operating strategy and model design, technology selection, and post-merger integration change management. 

Steven spent 15 years with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) in progressive financial and revenue cycle leadership roles. After leading revenue cycle operations at two shared service centers, he helped launch Parallon, a revenue cycle outsourcing subsidiary of HCA.

Since joining PELITAS in November 2018, he has positioned the company as the leader in patient access technology solutions to support hospitals and physicians by recruiting industry-leading talent, launching innovative solutions, and winning the Best in KLAS designation two years in a row.


[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/21/op-ed-theres-another-reason-for-the-labor-shortage.html

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/01/unemployment-benefits-are-ending-job-market-hiring-worries-arent.html

[3] https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/staff-shortages-riskier-than-unvaccinated-workers-cleveland-clinic-university-hospitals-ceos-say.html?origin=BHRE&utm_source=BHRE&utm_medium=email&utm_content=newsletter&oly_enc_id=5656I5926623F8Z

[4] https://www.pelitas.com/module/digital-scheduling


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