Healthcare Workforce Management Considerations for 2017

Posted on: December 19, 2016

written by

Jess Huckins

The healthcare sector has been struggling to maintain adequate staffing levels because of skills shortages and other issues. Unfortunately, this problem is likely to intensify for years to come.

Hospitals, practices, and other medical facilities need to ensure they are planning for skills shortages when mapping out their workforce management strategies for 2017. The first step is understanding the trends that are shaping the industry's workforce, and then looking into methods of alleviating the strain of shortages through alternative techniques. An increasingly popular strategy involves locum tenens, which has been a saving grace for the nation's medical facilities.

Before diving into locum tenens, though, let's take a look at the forecasts for the healthcare workforce in 2017.

Hot and Cold

Staffing Industry Analysts recently released their latest report on the medical workforce landscape, evaluating how the trends that intensified this year are going to play out in 2017. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The 2016 workforce grew by 13 percent compared to 2015. This number includes all staff categories, including temporary ones.

  • The number of newly insured patients ballooned in 2016 thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and this figure will once again rise in 2017.

  • With respect to market subsegments, traveling nurses enjoyed the most growth at 40 percent in 2015 and 22 percent in 2016, but this will slow to a projected 12 percent in 2017.

  • Perhaps not surprisingly, the report predicted that locum tenens will be among the strongest subsegment, posting double-digit growth in 2016 and continuing on an upward trajectory in 2017.

These factors need to play a central role in workforce management planning for 2017. Now, let's take a look at how locum tenens can be used to improve the outlook for the American medical sector.

Rising Tide

Healthcare DIVE explained some of the ways in which the locum tenens market has grown in the past few years, affirming that a combination of several factors among full-time workers has increased the need for temporary ones. For example, the news provider pointed out that the ACA has contributed to more burnout among physicians who work full-time. They have spent more time implementing the statutes contained therein, meaning less time for patients. Issues such as paperwork, electronic health records, and reimbursement, among others, are playing roles in this trend.

As a result, analysts are pointing toward a massive shortage in specialists and primary-care physicians, reaching a total of more than 75,000 vacant positions by 2025 when looking at data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. The clearest plan forward involves locum tenens. Healthcare DIVE stated that the locum tenens industry saw $3.1 billion in revenues last year, and continues to grow rapidly.

Simply put, if a medical facility's workforce management plan for 2017 does not include provisions for locum tenens, they will likely experience the full spectrum of issues associated with understaffing.

Going With the Flow

Spend Matters says the popularity of locum tenens is highly aligned with other trends throughout all industries and sectors, specifically in terms of workforce demands for more flexible positions. Doctors and other advanced-practice clinicians are no different from other professionals that are looking to change their daily routines by exiting the full-time category and entering into temporary contracts. This is similar to the ways in which businesses in other industries have tried to "Uberize" their workforces, effectively putting more control into the hands of employees when it comes to scheduling and hours.

So, with staff shortages already peaking and the medical workforce moving toward locum tenens, it only makes sense that hospitals and other facilities are beginning to capitalize on these types of employees. To ensure that 2017 is a stable, successful year, organizations in the healthcare sector should get moving on acquiring locum tenens services.

About Jess Huckins

Jess Huckins was formerly the managing editor at Barton Associates’ Peabody, MA, headquarters. She joined Barton after nearly a decade of professional editing in the publishing, marketing, and healthcare fields, and she holds a master's degree in publishing and writing. 

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