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Post-pandemic staffing planning: What you should be thinking about right now

post-pandemic healthcare staffing planning - physician and patient

Updating your annual staffing plan is usually a routine matter, but in the middle of a pandemic, it’s a lot more complicated. Being proactive about the changes you’ll need to make to your staffing plan can benefit your healthcare organization in both the short- and long-term. We talked with Thomas Rogers, SVP of clinical recruitment at Envision Healthcare, about what healthcare leaders should consider while creating their post-pandemic staffing plan.

Plan for an abnormal year

The pandemic has altered the staffing planning process in substantial and meaningful ways. While a normal year may have allowed an organization to rely on past reports and projections for the upcoming year, 2020 was filled with unpredictable ebbs and flows to various service lines.

“While some states and regions have seen drastic drops — for example in anesthesia for elective procedures — those same areas have seen drastic spikes where demand has completely stripped the provider population of an entire area,” says Rogers. “We have had to put together a new workflow to support all of that.”

Even with conditions improving in some states, most experts are predicting it will be the end of summer before things return to a degree of normality. Nobody wants the pandemic to continue, but it does create a degree of predictability that can inform your planning process.

“Now that we’ve got a little bit of a rhythm in how to address it, we have to focus on that same exercise for workforce optimization and staffing models,” Rogers says. “We have to move forward knowing that there’s this pendulum where things are going up and down that’s almost counterintuitive to what we’ve seen in prior years.”

Prioritize flexibility in the short-term

Rogers says organizations should stay flexible with their staffing in the first half of 2021. He recommends looking at service line volumes over the past six months and evaluating how it compares to the prior year. “Then you can put together a more flexible staffing model that will allow you to at least hit the minimum number you need, using contingent and PRN capacity to fill in the holes,” he says. 

Rogers believes patient volumes will start to normalize a bit beginning in April, reducing the strong variations in staffing numbers of the past year. However, a rolling 60-day period is a good timeframe that will allow you to anticipate surges and reductions in volume while staying flexible. It also fits well with most contingent contracts.

Physician and COVID patient

Use your budget to guide long-term planning

After accounting for the immediate ups and downs of the pandemic, healthcare leaders need to focus on the budget implications of their staffing plans. A new study published in the Annals of Surgery estimates that lost revenue from cancelled major elective surgeries alone may have cost U.S. hospitals more than $22 billion during the pandemic, revenue that won’t be easily or quickly recovered .

“You have to prepare for the worst-case scenarios from a revenue management budgeting perspective and tightening down all the belts in every way you can,” says Rogers. “Obviously, the financial strength and diversity that a particular company brings is going to give you more options, but there’s going to be some drastic financial planning around some of these worst-case scenarios.”

This includes reviewing operations costs as well as provider compensation and staffing models, says Rogers. “Really everyone in healthcare has to be thinking through what they can do and must do,” he says, adding that provider compensation may not rebound as quickly as many anticipated.

The political landscape could also affect planning around things like elective procedures and CMS payments. “All of these things have rolling impacts. You think about the leverage that payors have right now and how they interact with the different health systems and medical groups,” he says. “These are all significant — and I think expected — impacts that are going to hit different companies in different ways, but they’re going to impact planning, budgeting, and workforce optimization for everyone.”

These budget impacts will require healthcare leaders to reevaluate their long-term staffing plans as well as make short-term adjustments to optimize their workforce.

Use telehealth to maintain levels of care

Facilities who’ve transitioned to offering telehealth services over the past year would do well to keep — or even expand — them. “There’s tremendous opportunity in using telehealth to bridge the clinical gap,” says Rogers. “If we can leverage more telehealth across more specialties for more services then that’s going to help us meet demand, especially in rural communities and smaller towns. It’s also going to help us keep some of the more acute patients in touch with their clinicians on a more regular basis.”

The big question there is whether CMS will reimburse providers for telehealth visits or return to pre-pandemic practices. “Can we monetize it in a way that allows healthcare to pivot there more quickly?” Rogers asks. Although indications are positive, the new presidential administration has yet to announce a clear position on telehealth reimbursements.

Primary care physician and patient

Consider new healthcare models

The changes brought by the pandemic may be causing some health systems to consider moving toward new healthcare models like value-based care.

“I think there has to be some significant credence given to the idea that we may be shifting quicker than expected towards a risk-based or a capitated model nationally,” says Rogers. “What the speed to market is, how quickly it develops, and how the arrangements with the different payers in the government change, that’s something I can’t forecast, but I do think it’s going in that direction.”  

Rogers says the organizations who are most successful at implementing these types of models tend to have clinical leadership with a deep understanding of how different specialties interact.

Focus on a flexible workforce

Rogers urges healthcare leaders to leverage a lean and efficient model for their post-pandemic staffing plan. To complement this, he recommends building a meaningful supply of contingent providers. “That way you can flex up when needed, but you’re not operationally and financial tied to the burden of a higher staffing model,” he says. 

While staffing planning may look different these days, it’s also a good opportunity to make changes that will ultimately benefit your organization, your providers, and your patients.

CompHealth specializes in finding the best physicians, PAs, and NPs to help fill your staffing needs. Give us a call at 855.900.2012 or complete the form below.

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About the author

Alisa Tank

Alisa Tank

Alisa Tank is a communications coordinator at CHG Healthcare. She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of others. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, road trips, and exploring Utah’s desert landscapes.

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