COVID-19 has affected all aspects of personal and professional lives. The American Medical Association (AMA) is reporting that "Physician Practices are confronting new and unique operational and business challenges during the Pandemic". Notably, the pandemic is furthering the already existing challenges of staffing, retention and technology in small medical practices. The shortage of healthcare workers was a concern before the pandemic. Now, that concern has intensified. How can a practice quickly hire the staff they desperately need to be successful and continue to give quality patient care? While in a large metropolitan city like Phoenix, the candidate pool is larger; smaller physician practices and those in more rural towns like Wickenburg may be challenged from already dealing with a shortage of healthcare workers. According to a 2019 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study, more than 59 percent of federally designated Health Professional Shortage Areas are in rural areas.
Recruiting practices in the age of COVID-19 may have pivoted into virtual interviews replacing in-person interviews, building stronger partnerships with staffing agencies who can accelerate the hiring process and participating in virtual job fairs. Leaving no stone unturned, physician practices are exploring candidate pools of laid off workers, such as school nurses, hospitality and restaurant workers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in September of 2020, employment in healthcare operations is projected to grow 15% over the next ten years, adding about 2.4 million new jobs. Resulting in healthcare adding more jobs than any other occupational groups! As the candidate pool continues to remain competitive, physician practices can consider implementing initiatives such as job shadowing, internships and tuition reimbursement to attract potential candidates. The use of job shadowing and internship opportunities for high school students can generate interest in the healthcare industry before they ever enter the workforce. Consider implementing a tuition reimbursement program where workers can earn important on-the-job experience while furthering their education. Continuing education and/or certificate programs (such as the medical assistant certification) can drive worker retention and is dually invested in not only their satisfaction but of physicians being able to utilize that credential and new-found knowledge within their practices to their advantage. While a tuition reimbursement program comes with a financial investment, the return on investment can be high.
With or without some of these programs, it's not an easy task to find candidates with the skills and experience to meet current needs, along with navigating interview questions to assess culture fit. But, before the recruiting process is launched, how do you determine what skills and experience are needed to meet current needs? Has the pandemic created a need for a different set of skills and experiences? Is there a need for candidates who offer interchangeable skills? Candidates who can demonstrate a sense of nimbleness and initiative? These are some important questions to ponder before the recruiting process begins. Typical staffing analyses like “Full-Time Equivalent (FTE)”, may help to determine staffing numbers necessary to deliver exceptional patient care while balancing financial considerations.
Thinking of small practices in particular, the need for interchangeable skill sets may be critical to avoid over- or under-staffing and provide seamless cover for time off without compromising patient care. An additional benefit of this approach may result in a “win/win” situation, with workers feeling more challenged and engaged, by using their wide array of skills. When workers feel engaged, they are more likely to remain. Supplementing your recruiting processes with digital tools like an applicant tracking system can ease this burden.
While a variety of tasks can lead to greater worker retention, it’s not the only method available to reduce a turnover rate. A high turnover rate will most definitely impact the practice’s bottom line. The average cost of replacing a worker is estimated to be upwards of 150% of the annual salary. This cost is calculated using the costs associated with recruitment, such as job posting fees; lost productivity and cost to train the new worker. Turnover can also impact the remaining workforce resulting in lower morale and a heightened risk of error covering the extra work. Implementing methods to promote ongoing communication, cross-training and performance feedback can build a high performing and engaged workforce.
Worker retention, whether during the pandemic or not, is a strategic initiative best demonstrated on a day-to-day basis. During these trying times, Kristin Struble, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and partner at Camelback Pediatrics, has instituted pizza days, distributed gift cards, hosted zoom happy hours with food delivery to employees’ homes and continued to pay workers when the office was closed. Dr. Struble states, “I am grateful for my staff’s dedication to patients and the practice throughout the pandemic. To retain employees, you have to go the extra mile to show them that you care about them and are grateful for all that they do”.
Whether recruiting, retaining or other Human Resources initiatives, iSolved HCM can be a valuable partner in building processes and systems to support small and large medical practices alike. People Services brings a wealth of HR consulting expertise coupled with automated HR tools in an easy-to -use bundled payroll software application taking the burden of managing employee data off the practice to focus on medicine and the patient experience.