Creative Staffing Strategies for Healthcare Practices Powering Back
You’ve persevered through one of the most challenging periods the healthcare sector has ever seen. You’re cautiously reopening your practice as states start lifting restrictions, applying all the necessary safeguards and recommendations for keeping your community safe. And you’re ready to welcome back the throngs of patients who have been anxiously awaiting the moment they can reschedule their appointments and procedures. Simply put, your practice is back in business, and once you’ve caught up on the backlog, you can start focusing on growth.
But all of that – re-engaging with patients, rescheduling and fulfilling postponed appointments, and preparing for the long term – requires a robust, yet flexible staffing plan. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially for a sector that experienced a highly unusual spike in unemployment: The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reports 1 in 10 healthcare workers lost their jobs between February and April 2020. For most healthcare practices, this means they are re-emerging at a staffing deficit. Compounding the problem is the fact that healthcare staffing was already a concern for most practices prior to the pandemic: According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), talent acquisition is the biggest problem for HR professionals in healthcare – followed by burnout, training and certification.
So, what’s a healthcare practice to do? First and foremost, you need to assess your short- and long-term staffing needs, taking into consideration surges in patient activity as appointments, procedures and follow-ups are rescheduled. Consider your existing staff’s needs – things like sick time, vacation requests, scheduling preferences and other scenarios that may take them away from the office and, potentially, leave you short-handed. Then, armed with that information, you’ll want to think about the following:
- Doubling-down on staff retention. Your first reaction might be to “hire, hire, hire,” but your first priority should be retaining your current team. They know the practice and its processes, and they know the patients and have your trust. They’re also likely emotionally drained and facing their own personal challenges due to COVID. Let them know they’re valued members of your team and, if possible, offer incentives and rewards (things like bonuses, gift cards, comp days or even just public recognition) for their efforts and loyalty. The same applies for staff members you might have had to let go or furlough during the pandemic – contact them immediately and collaborate to design an offer and a schedule that works best for both parties.
- Driving efficiency through technology. If there was ever a time to look for opportunities to do things more efficiently, this is it. Rather than starting the exhaustive and expensive process of hiring and training new staff members, use technology to handle time-consuming, administrative, front office tasks. Electronic self-check-in technology can help you process more patients faster, from check-in to payment processing to insurance eligibility verification, without the need for human intervention. It can even capture patient data updates and diagnostic information that automatically populates patient records for a more seamless and impactful patient experience.
- Employing contract services and “exchange programs” to handle peak periods. For situations where you do need more in-office resources, invest in building a close relationship with a few select local staffing and contract agencies. Putting the work in to help them get to know your practice and preferences will help them serve as an extension of your business and provide the best personnel for your needs. Alternatively, you may want to reach out to other similar practices in your area and propose an “exchange program,” where you share resources, from front-office staff to associates, to cover your respective peak activity periods, while keeping your staffing costs down.
- Refocusing from administration to patient experience. Of course, some patients may have lingering concerns about visiting a medical facility and may need extra reassurance to help them feel comfortable prior to and during their appointments. This would be an excellent time to redeploy your front office staff to serve as patient ambassadors focused on supporting and comforting patients versus performing administrative tasks that can easily be automated. For example, electronic self-check-in technology can be used to verify insurance eligibility or confirm patient information. This frees up your front office staff for higher-value activities like serving as a patient concierge, tending to ongoing office-sanitization processes, or counseling patients on possible payment options.
- Implementing flexible-scheduling. You might also consider rolling out a flexible-schedule or job-sharing program, where you team up two or more part-time personnel to cover a full-time shift. For example, one team member may work the first four hours of a given day, while the other relieves them for the second half. This gives you a wider pool of potential employees to draw from, as you can consider individuals looking for part-time work versus full-time. And by treating them as a team, you ensure a seamless handoff from one to another, since they are familiar with each other’s work styles and are in regular communication. It also gives you more resources to draw from when you need to cover for vacation periods and sick time, as one team member can cover for another, as needed.
There are countless ways to address your staffing needs as your practice powers back in the second half of 2020. The key is to look beyond traditional methods and think creatively. This is a chance to revisit and reset – to capitalize on opportunities to drive greater efficiency across your operation and insulate your business from uncertainty in the future.
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