Staffing shortages are, unfortunately, nothing new for many healthcare organizations. Many pandemic-related factors, including increasing retirements and resignations from COVID-fatigue, have made the health care labor crisis worse. Add in increasing absences due to quarantine and illness, a reduction in foreign-educated nurses due to immigration limits, and highly-compensated “travel” RN positions, it’s not surprising that 16 percent of US hospitals had critical staffing shortages as of Oct 1. Staff shortages in healthcare are projected to reach 3.2 million by 2026.

 

Vaccine Mandates - Patient Benefits, Potential Staffing Challenges 

The federal government has proposed a vaccine mandate requirement for Medicare and Medicaid participating healthcare providers that would cover more than 17 million healthcare workers. 

Some healthcare providers are concerned that this mandate could further fuel staffing shortages. While vaccine compliance rates have been high among healthcare workers, some executives fear that losing even a very small number of workers to mandates could have a significant impact.

Many healthcare organizations, including the American Hospital Association (AHA), have advocated for vaccine mandates describing them as a “logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all healthcare workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first." Many large healthcare organizations, including Kaiser Permanente, have already implemented vaccine mandates and have retained over 99% of their staff. They have reported small numbers of employees lost to resignation or termination.

The AHA acknowledges that while vaccine mandates have many benefits, they could be difficult for smaller or more rural health systems that have limited sourcing options for nurses. Rural hospital executives concerned about having insufficient patient care staff have been reluctant to voluntarily implement mandates. 



Providers Need Innovative Staffing Solutions 

As healthcare providers navigate the mandates, it’s clear they will need to be more resourceful and efficient in caring for patients. Even without mandates, staffing shortages will persist and any innovative solution that improves patient care with less staff should be considered. Some of these solutions may involve shifting the way care is delivered to appeal to a larger or different pool of clinical resources. For example, many nurses that have burned out on the hospital floor or in a physician practice, may be willing to consider returning to the field in a flexible, remote, part-time position.

While it may be impractical for a physician’s office to hire and manage a part-time, remote RN that only provides virtual care, they could outsource this function to a company that has a pool of remote RNs to serve exactly that function. This could allow a practice to dramatically expand the reach of their virtual care programs without adding to their current workload, or possibly even reducing the workload of in-office RNs.

 

Managed RPM Can Help Alleviate Staffing Challenges

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM), a digital health solution that allows providers and their staff to monitor patients’ health from a distance, is a great place to start. Many RPM providers, including Optimize Health, offer managed RPM services where the RPM company provides outsourced RNs that act as an extension of your existing clinical staff team. This allows your practice to increase the direct clinical care time patients are receiving without directly hiring new staff, and may help reduce the number of routine patient calls your overworked nurses directly field on a daily basis. 

If you are considering outsourcing or partnering with an RPM partner that provides nurses to assist with remote care services, what should you look for? We suggest conducting a virtual interview with your potential partner and ensuring the clinical staff not only demonstrates excellent clinical skills, but can effectively engage with patients in a virtual environment. Nurses working with patients in a virtual environment not only need to be comfortable with technology, they may need to be able to explain technology to patients as well. They also need a strong work ethic, an ability to work independently, and a passion for using motivational strategies to drive patient behavior changes.

The pandemic has fundamentally and permanently changed the way we deliver and receive services and healthcare is no exception. When implemented correctly, leveraging remote work and virtual care has the potential to both improve patient care and increase your staffing capacity.

 

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If you would like to speak with one of our RPM experts about increasing patient engagement, without increasing the workload on your current clinical staff, contact us for a free consultation.

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