With clinicians leaving the workplace in unprecedented numbers, healthcare staffing shortages have become a substantial concern across the U.S.
The need for healthcare workers has never been more urgent. As the Baby Boomer population continues to age, in the coming years the situation will only worsen as clinicians will require expanded healthcare operations to treat an aging population.
While staffing shortages are already pushing waiting times at hospitals to the brink, we are also looming on the edge of even greater problems moving into the future. In less than a decade, the aging population of America will be inescapable. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that by 2034, there will be 77 million people aged 65 years and older compared to 76.5 million under the age of 18. With this growing number of older adults, the country will see greater demands for healthcare. And, if the staffing shortage problem isn’t addressed soon, we could face significant challenges in caring for our elderly population.
To combat the crisis of staffing today, healthcare operations need to address the factors that are causing clinicians to leave the field. Retaining talent, especially in a moment where there simply may not be enough people to staff positions, will depend on artificial intelligence (AI) technology to fill gaps and address stressors that are leading to attrition. Furthermore, these technological advances are also helping clinicians become more efficient than ever— ensuring that patients receive the best healthcare possible.
Why is There a Shortage of Healthcare Workers in the U.S.?
Concerns around the shortage of healthcare workers across the U.S. is multifaceted.
What’s Causing Hospital Staffing Shortages?
A closer look at the number of clinicians leaving the workplace reveals that, while COVID-19 has had a significant impact on staffing shortages, the problem goes back further than the pandemic.
Hospital staffing shortages are largely driven by stress from understaffing, long hours, and increasing administrative burdens, as well as a massive growth in expenses in comparison to hospital operating margins.
With clinicians being pushed to perform more work with fewer resources and support, increased time is being spent completing paperwork, and less time is spent treating patients, causing highly educated and experienced individuals to leave the field due to burnout.
Providing further evidence that the healthcare staffing shortage could result in a public health crisis, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there are at least 176,000 more open healthcare jobs now than there were before pre-pandemic levels, and 23% of hospitals have reported critical staffing shortages.
What’s Causing Nursing Staff Shortages?
Simultaneously, as physicians are pushed beyond capacity, registered nurses are also feeling severe burnout. With nursing vacancy rates continuing to rise across the country, the long-term implications are alarming. The same age disparity that will come to influence the inability to adequately treat Baby Boomers, can also be seen in the age distribution of nurses themselves.
As maintained by the American Hospital Association (AHA), “The staffing crisis currently plaguing our nation’s hospitals is only expected to worsen. In 2017, more than half of nurses were aged 50 and older, and almost 30% were aged 60 and older. And due to significant shortages of faculty, classroom space and clinical training sites, nursing schools actually had to turn away more than 80,000 qualified applicants in 2019.” Now in 2023, the estimated shortages are predicted to reach 1.1 million nurses.
At a time when the need for providers and nursing staff couldn’t be more crucial, there is great concern around what the future of nursing will look like.
With 52% of nurses considering leaving the field, what incentives or requirements are needed to retain talent? According to the AHA, “Among nurses who are considering leaving the profession, higher pay was the most influential motivation to stay, followed by better support for work-life balance and more reasonable workload.”
Tools like AI can be used to offload many of the tasks that are causing nurses to leave the field including, the growing administrative burdens that add additional workload stress.
The Impact of Staff Shortages in Healthcare
During the pandemic physician happiness at work dropped significantly, and we have yet to see it rebound. According to Medscape’s 2023 Physician Lifestyle and Happiness Report, 59% of physicians reported feeling “somewhat” or “very happy,” down from 84% before the pandemic. With more healthcare professionals resigning than ever before, the repercussions are considerable for both clinicians and patients.
Extended Wait Times
In life-threatening emergencies, receiving adequate medical treatment can mean the difference between positive and negative outcomes. Delayed care has the potential to escalate a medical emergency, making timely access to healthcare professionals so key.
Regrettably, waiting times have grown so long that patients are leaving the ER before even seeing a clinician. As reported by U.S. News, “When hospital occupancy topped 85% during the COVID-19 pandemic between January 2020 and December 2021, boarding times exceeded 6.5 hours, compared with 2.4 hours during times when hospitals were less crowded. Boarding times worsened throughout this period, the study showed.”
Insufficient Patient Care
Many believe that clinicians who are experiencing burnout provide less than adequate care for the patients that they are treating. And rightfully so, as burnout affects the quality of care and patient outcomes.
Additionally, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) found the professional consequences of clinician burnout have been associated with the failure of interpersonal relationships, increased medical errors, increased risk of malpractice, and reduced patient satisfaction.
A Worsening Crisis
The staffing shortage crisis will only get worse, as 1 in 5 physicians intend to leave the field within the next two years, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).
Physicians are leaving the field at alarming rates, with a study from the University of Minnesota finding providers exiting at a rate four times higher than before the pandemic. With so many clinicians leaving at a dire moment, hospitals are less equipped to perform specialized treatments for patients including complex medical conditions that require a higher level of clinical care, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
With fewer clinicians and less time with patients, the provider and patient relationship has also been significantly impacted. When clinicians aren’t actively engaged with the patient, they can miss critical details that could impact outcomes as well as the opportunity to build trust, and strengthen the patient experience. There are also concerns that the loss may result in patients being more likely to go to the emergency room or get costly, specialized care.
How to Mitigate Staffing Shortages in Healthcare with AI
Subsequently, clinicians and patients need a solution that enables forming a human connection at the point of care, where the clinician is able to be fully present with each patient.
Resolve Bottlenecks in Clinical Practices
By identifying and addressing bottlenecks in clinical practices, clinicians and patients can see great improvement. In emergency room (ER) settings, many patients are leaving the waiting room due to excessive waiting times. Shockingly, we are even seeing some patients leaving their beds because they continue to wait to see a provider to no avail. Patients leaving in the midst of care should not become an acceptable standard.
Clinicians are spending too much time performing tasks that take them away from seeing patients including documentation and cognitive burdens when working with electronic health records (EHR).
With a multitude of information for each patient, clinicians need user-friendly tools that seamlessly integrate into clinical workflows. AI solutions like Augmedix complete paperwork for clinicians, adding up to 3 hours back into the day which means seeing more patients and lowering wait times. When clinicians are able to focus on the patient, they are more efficient and productive.
To properly address the staffing shortage crisis, we must alleviate burnout. Better support for work-life balance and a more reasonable workload are two of the primary demands that healthcare professionals are asking for.
Clerical work appears to be one of the biggest culprits. An NIH study found that “clerical work intrudes on the physician’s time, resulting in emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or a diminished sense of personal success, substance abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidality. Emotional exhaustion forms the core of physician burnout.”
AI technology has been employed to find a solution. By removing tasks that can be automated, clinicians are better equipped to address the most pressing needs faced by patients. Enabling clinicians to have natural conversations with their patients, Augmedix directly reduces burnout by blending human expertise with automatic documentation.
Address Mental Health Needs of Staff
There is significant evidence that burnout is a primary driver of turnover. By removing the burden of clerical work, clinicians can get back to the work they care about most — seeing patients.
Rehumanizing the clinician-patient relationship, Augmedix can indirectly address the mental health needs of clinicians by alleviating their primary stressors. By addressing clinician burnout around data entry and administrative work, burden is greatly reduced.
AI can’t do this alone, but when paired with adequate services that help clinicians cope with the demands placed on them, a more comprehensive method of treating healthcare staffing shortages can be implemented.
Augmedix Provides a Full Suite of AI Solutions to Combat Staffing Shortages in Healthcare
From automating workflows, streamlining how information is captured in the EHR and reducing administrative tasks, Augmedix’s AI medical documentation services increase retention and productivity, improve clinician well-being and enhance clinician and patient satisfaction.
Interested in learning more? Download a white paper or watch a webinar on the causes of clinician staffing shortages and how it can be addressed with Augmedix’s suite of AI solutions.