Technology Eases Healthcare Staff Shortage as its Own Staffing Drops

Perspective from Andrew Limouris, President & CEO, Medix

Digital transformation has long played a vital role in offsetting healthcare staff shortages. New technologies can streamline processes that include safeguarding confidentiality and monitoring patients. One of the goals for healthcare technology is to ease the workload carried by clinicians who must provide patient care with fewer healthcare staff.

However, there’s another train running on a convergent track: staffing and talent shortages in technology. How will events play out now that the specialized technical talent needed to strengthen healthcare is becoming harder to find, too?

How Technology Meshes with Healthcare

Areas in which technology can ease healthcare staffing shortages and enhance patient care include: 

  • Virtual nursing capabilities to speed tasks such as verifying admissions checklists or exchanging information between patients and nurses 
  • Early discharge systems and alternatives to onsite patient sitting that use remote patient monitoring to free up staff and beds 
  • Electronic health record systems (EHR), which are becoming easier to use, reducing cognitive overload and other forms of clerical and clinician burnout 
  • Asynchronous healthcare technologies to simplify workflows around medical histories and patient instructions

Interestingly, in 2023, consulting firm Accenture reported that language-based AI could be relevant to tasks involved in 40% of total healthcare working hours. 

IT Staffing Shortages Sparked By COVID-19 and the Great Resignation

We’ve made it this far without mentioning the pandemic, but sadly, we need to bring it up. COVID was the boulder that rolled downhill, leaving in its wake flattened staffing levels not only in healthcare but IT, too. The Great Resignation was another factor, with vast numbers leaving their jobs for more fulfilling roles, more flexible working arrangements, or both.

The Impacts of Healthcare Technology Staff Shortages Range from Patient Care to Cybersecurity

Technology can do a lot to enhance the lives of humans in healthcare by streamlining processes and relieving stress heaped on direct care providers. When IT’s support to healthcare declines due to a lack of IT talent, nurse and physician burnout often grows and patient well-being declines. When patient care bottlenecks result in overflowing emergency rooms, a lack of IT support is often a factor. Of course, this is a broad brush view of a bigger, more nuanced problem. 

Cybersecurity is a grave concern. Like healthcare, IT is often in the crosshairs of cyberattackers looking to derail business operations and/or commandeer data. With fewer skilled IT professionals at the helm, both industries are more vulnerable to breaches. 

Recent breaches have shattered normal business operations for the organizations Change Healthcare and 23andMe. Change Healthcare was hit in a cyberattack that is causing extensive disruptions to health systems and pharmacies throughout the U.S. Hackers claimed that data seized came from Change Healthcare clients including Medicare, Tricare, and CVS and that the types of data were medical records and Social Security numbers, among others.

Four months earlier, there was an incident in which genetic testing company 23andMe was targeted, compromising the data of people with Ashkenazi Jewish and Chinese ancestry. 

In early 2022, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services probed 860 data breaches from the previous two years, each of which laid bare the protected health information of at least 500 people. The average cost of healthcare data breaches was more than $9 million, over twice the $4.24 million average cost incurred across all industries.  

Recently, a poll of 100 IT, tech, and healthcare leaders was conducted by Extreme Networks, Inc. in conjunction with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. It revealed that 54% of respondents saw cybersecurity as their biggest investment priority. Another 36% planned to prioritize modern healthcare applications, and 75% of technology professionals with purchasing authority planned cloud infrastructure updates. 

Network/wireless priorities were also cited as key for the upcoming months, including these: 

  • Capabilities attainable through network enhancements in hospital operations and patient experience as cited by 93% of respondents.
  • Wi-Fi was indicated by 96% of respondents to enable clinical staff’s mobile devices.
  • Overall patient experience was a factor for 84%.
  • Wi-Fi for better patient monitoring was cited by 83%. 

The Path Toward Possible Solutions

The costs of college tuition and student loans can, for many people, create insurmountable barriers to jobs in IT. Combine that with the perceived negatives that spurred much of the Great Resignation, and the IT staffing challenge grows. 

Here are some suggestions that can be explored to help IT replenish its ranks: 

  • Partnering with schools to expand and improve recruiting, staffing, and hiring practices
  • Using social media sites and online communities to connect with potential talent 
  • Combing through benefits packages in search of gaps, filling them where possible
  • Exploring solutions to ease the impact of tuition and college loans
  • Locking arms with agencies like Medix to source the best possible IT talent

Hope on the Horizon?

What is reassuring is the enormous good that can come to both healthcare and IT once free flowing IT talent pipelines are restored. It will mean the potential to improve lives for patients, nurses, and physicians and for those who pursue new and fulfilling opportunities in healthcare and IT. 

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