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Solving operational challenges starts by looking at operating models and staffing from a new perspective.
The healthcare industry and its employees are facing challenges today filled with uncertainty. There is no clear idea of what the "new normal" will look like after the effects of the COVID-19 have subsided. However, what is clear is that challenges were already concerning for hospitals in a pre-COVID-19 environment. According to a report published by the American Hospital Association, the median margin for hospitals in the United States before the pandemic was just 3.5%.
Now, the pandemic generated a new set of problems on top of those many hospitals already struggled with, like growing self-pay collections, increased administrative burdens and regulations and plummeting reimbursements. With the cumulative effect of these issues, the industry may go into the red. As the report predicts, this means that nearly half of all hospitals could have negative operating margins by the end of 2021, with rural hospitals feeling the impact more harshly.
To make matters worse, there is also the added stress level of the clinicians feeling the effects of burnout. Even before the pandemic, the rate of burnout was already high, with 40% of physicians reported feeling burned out. Now, nearly 30% of clinicians are ready to leave the industry entirely leading to a shortage of approximately 124,000 clinicians by 2034, as projected by a study published by the Association of American Medical Colleges. This shortage will adversely affect the entire system, especially physicians who remain and patients who will still need treatment.
What is important to understand is that there is a way through these challenges without arriving at this possible future. Solving operational challenges starts by looking at operating models and staffing from a new perspective. Partnering with a multi-specialty healthcare management company can help hospitals maintain the highest quality care while gaining improved operational efficiencies — both of which are critical in the journey toward post-pandemic recovery. To this effect, there are three areas of focus that a hospital should emphasize and in which the partner should excel when looking to choose that partner.
Collaborative Care Model
When looking for an experienced hospitalist partner, they must understand the hospital they are working with. They should demonstrate understanding of its culture and where they fit into it. Not only does this mean exhibiting quality leadership, a willingness to roll up their sleeves, and work alongside hospital leadership, managers and clinicians, but it also means that they are a part of the team, and they are accountable for how that affects patient care. Partners should collect and analyze key performance data to identify opportunities to improve clinical and operational performance and focus on the care they are helping to give as if it were their community.
It is clear from the struggles persisting in the healthcare industry thus far that returning to the operational strategies will not be the way forward. The status quo cannot continue, and it should not be the plan of their new partner. Looking at a new way forward, hospitals need to choose partners committed to innovation and ongoing learning. Look for organizations that think outside the box, such as using a model that trains and employs high-performing advanced practice providers.
Care Across the Continuum
Care does not end when the patient leaves the hospital, but in reality, it is difficult to continue this care after they leave. Lack of follow-up care leads to readmissions, emergency care, and potentially life-threatening complications. Research shows that nearly one in five patients experience an adverse event within just three weeks of being discharged, 75% of which could have been prevented or alleviated. The three primary reasons are hospital-acquired infections, procedural complications, and adverse drug events.
A hospital should be looking for a partner who understands this and looks for ways to relieve this issue through telehealth outsourcers for post-acute care and remote patient monitoring. A potential partner who demonstrates an understanding of the importance of providing consistency and quality in every patient encounter, no matter where the patient is in the healthcare spectrum, is the right partner.
The Journey Forward
With all the uncertainty we face daily, it is good to know that the right partner can get the industry to whatever that new normal may be. The ideal partner will provide experienced hospitalist medical directors that oversee financial and clinical care components of your program while you maintain complete control of overall operations, while also delivering consistent, high-quality care through continual communications with your hospital staff, your patients and their families.
Doug Mitchel is co-founder and chief executive officer at Adfinitas Health.