The current surge in COVID-19 cases has highlighted critical staffing shortages in the healthcare industry. While shortages already existed prior to the pandemic, the problem has only escalated as so many healthcare workers have chosen to leave their positions for less stressful jobs. There is, however, a potential solution that could help alleviate healthcare staffing issues, one that other industries have already embraced: Virtual work.
The work-from-home movement, initially implemented due to COVID social distancing mandates, has taken a permanent place in many companies. Organizations have realized that remote workers are often happier and produce the same amount of work, if not more. Research reported by Forbes outlines five ways remote work is beneficial for companies across sectors. These include:
- Productivity — Teleworkers are an average of 35-40% more productive than their office counterparts, and have measured an output increase of at least 4.4%.
- Performance — With stronger autonomy via location independence, workers produce results with 40% fewer quality defects.
- Engagement — Higher productivity and performance combine to create stronger engagement, or in other words, 41% lower absenteeism.
- Retention — 54% of employees say they would change jobs for one that offered them more flexibility, which results in an average of 12% turnover reduction after a remote work agreement is offered.
- Profitability — Organizations save an average of $11,000 per year per part-time telecommuter, or 21% higher profitability.
Research conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services concurs. The group surveyed more than 1,000 global business leaders and found that 61% believed the “quality of remote work is at least as good as that done in the physical workplace. Just 22% disagreed. Fifty-seven percent said that their digital workplace investments have “improved business agility” and 78% said they expect the trend to grow.
The bottom line is that healthcare is missing out on a great opportunity to address workplace stress and staff retention. The good news is that there’s never been a better time to get on board.
Technology is in place
Most physician practices and specialty providers implemented some form of telehealth early in the pandemic. While many have reopened their offices to in-person care again, the current surge in the Delta variant has reignited the use of telehealth. It’s an option patients would like to see made permanent. A poll conducted earlier this year found that 88% of Americans want to keep telehealth as an option after the pandemic has passed. Why not let clinicians manage their virtual appointments from home? Most are likely to have wireless connectivity in their homes, making it easy to get set up. Blocks of time or specific days could be dedicated to virtual appointments and others to in-office appointments. It’s a win-win for patients and for staff.
“Many healthcare functions such as monitoring, diagnosis or therapy can be performed at a distance, with new technologies playing an important supporting role.” Harvard Business Review
Staff skillsets have evolved
The move from onsite to remote work would have been more challenging a few years ago, before digital workplace solutions became the norm. Today, digital tools are routinely used for team meetings, video conferencing, file sharing, text messaging, and collaboration. In healthcare specifically, the use of EMRs and digital patient communication tools like text reminders, patient portals, and telehealth have gained traction. Providers and their staff have accumulated the skillset necessary to make a seamless transition between remote and in-person work.
Improves staffing options
Another benefit of leveraging a remote workforce in healthcare concerns recruitment. Instead of being limited to a local workforce, providers can benefit by hiring available workers outside of their local area. This provides a greater pool of candidates to choose from. For specialists whose business may have slowed because of the pandemic, leveraging remote staff to conduct virtual assessments and consultations can help mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic while, at the same time, building out their patient roster.
Embracing remote workers helps reduce absenteeism by allowing quarantined staff with mild symptoms to continue seeing patients via telehealth from home.
The time to act is now
According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, “Aside from the obvious benefits such as reduced commuting times, remote work arrangements have also been shown to increase productivity, improve employee morale, and reduce stress and burnout; thereby lowering the incidence of treatment errors.”
Is there a downside to implementing a work-from-home plan in provider practices? It might be better to ask if there’s any good reason not to use every tool possible to reduce healthcare’s critical staffing shortages for good. The time to act is now.