If you’ve watched the news lately, you probably know about the labor shortage impacting a wide range of industries across the U.S. As of April 2021, over 9.3 million job openings were available across the nation, leaving businesses without enough staff to perform daily operations and remain successful.
One sector that labor shortages have severely affected is the healthcare industry. In November 2020, over 1,000 hospitals in the U.S. were critically short on staff, and officials only expected this number to grow. Similarly, nearly 60% of optometry offices do not have enough staff to operate to their full potential.
Staffing shortages in the healthcare industry are perhaps more dire than the other labor shortages plaguing America. Without proper staffing, optometry practices and other healthcare organizations put patients at risk of not receiving the care they need in their most vulnerable times.
Below, we discuss the reasons behind this severe staffing shortage and a few practical solutions that organizations can implement to reduce staffing problems.
Why Is There a Staffing Shortage in the Healthcare Industry?
While the healthcare shortage is at its peak in 2021, this issue began years ago and has slowly worsened over time. Here are a few factors contributing to the staffing shortage in the optometry and broader healthcare industries.
Aging Populations and Growing Healthcare Needs
Healthcare staffing shortages began years ago when aging adults started outnumbering younger generations. Factors such as the baby boom following World War II and increasing adult lifespans leave our current population with over 46 million older adults. This number will likely increase to almost 90 million by 2050.
Older adults tend to have more healthcare needs than younger individuals, including optometry needs and broader health issues. As a result, the higher the average age in a given population, the more healthcare resources will need to be available to them.
However, because a more significant percentage of the population is reaching retirement age, fewer workers are available to staff healthcare organizations. Thus, the combination of increased aging populations and fewer workers is one of the main contributing factors to the healthcare staffing shortage.
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Healthcare Education Challenges
Another factor contributing to healthcare staffing shortages includes the challenges surrounding receiving the necessary qualifications to become a healthcare professional.
Universities turn away thousands of qualified optometry applicants every year due to limited capacity or lack of resources. Those who do make it into optometry programs often fail out due to demanding course loads and extremely high standards.
While these high standards are necessary to produce competent optometrists, they limit the number of individuals able to qualify for healthcare jobs, thus exacerbating shortages.
Stress from COVID-19
Today, one of the most significant factors affecting the healthcare shortage is the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers have been at the frontlines of the pandemic since March 2020 and have received little to no break from elevated COVID-19 patient numbers.
Workers across a range of healthcare organizations have suffered under the burden of caring for COVID-19 patients and adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols. It’s no surprise that the stress and strain of this pandemic has led many healthcare workers to transition to different careers.
Recently, many optometry practices and other healthcare organizations across the U.S. have begun mandating that all of their staff members receive the COVID-19 vaccination. As a result, employees who wish not to receive the vaccine have started looking for employment elsewhere, further exacerbating staffing shortages.
Stress From Shortages
Working in a severely understaffed healthcare environment is stressful. Often, employee working conditions are unsafe, burdensome, and next to impossible to maintain during periods of shortage. As a result, many employees have left their healthcare positions simply due to the stress of staffing shortages.
Unfortunately, the longer the shortages exist within the healthcare field, the more rapidly they will worsen. As employee working conditions become less and less safe due to these conditions, many workers will feel they have no choice but to leave these dangerous conditions and look for new job opportunities.
Practical Solutions to Healthcare Staffing Shortages
The healthcare staffing shortage is a complex, diverse issue requiring large-scale solutions to properly fix it. However, individual healthcare organizations can take a few steps to reduce staffing burdens on their employees and prevent further shortages.
Prioritize Employee Appreciation and Incentives
Healthcare workers who hold down the fort during staffing shortages deserve high praise and recognition for their services. Healthcare organizations need to prioritize employee appreciation and offer sizable incentives to keep these workers satisfied and prevent them from leaving due to stress and poor working conditions.
Organizations should take several approaches to employee appreciation to target different types of incentives that employees enjoy. Some healthcare workers thrive on vocal praise and support. Complimenting them on their hard work and thanking them for their commitment goes a long way in keeping them happy in their positions.
However, many workers prefer monetary or physical incentives, such as bonuses and pay raises, over compliments. Offering competitive wages and providing financial incentives during severe shortages can encourage employees to continue bringing their best effort to their organizations.
Other smaller incentives, such as free lunches, coffee carts, and prizes, can also demonstrate employee appreciation and improve worker satisfaction in stressful conditions.
Bring in Temporary or Traveling Workers
Many organizations have begun hiring temporary help or working with travel healthcare organizations to provide staffing during times of severe shortage, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working with these traveling organizations can help optometry practices supplement staffing shortages and receive the help they need to continue operating. Unfortunately, traveling workers act as a double-edged sword in a sense.
In 2021, thousands of workers are leaving their full-time healthcare positions to work as temporary travel workers in areas of severe shortage. The pay and benefits are outstanding for these positions, leading more workers to leave their jobs in favor of travel positions. This trend creates a more significant shortage that necessitates more travel workers.
Working with traveling healthcare workers and other temporary staff can be beneficial as long as it does not contribute to the shortage at the other end of the spectrum.
Improve Employee Communication
While it may seem inconsequential, maintaining clear communication with employees is essential to worker satisfaction during stressful shortages. The clearer and more active communication is between employees and management, the more likely employees are to maintain loyalty to their organization and stick out periods of poor working conditions.
One way to optimize communication between employees and upper-level management is to utilize a platform like Weave Team. This program allows teams to communicate more effectively from their mobile devices and creates a medium through which management can share news, post reminders, and announce important information.
Using Weave Team can facilitate more seamless communication among healthcare workers and create a sense of loyalty and team bonding, making employees less likely to leave the organization and make conditions even more challenging for their coworkers.
Shift Staffing Structure
In many cases, healthcare workers cannot safely handle a larger workload than they did before the healthcare shortage. One necessary way to reduce the burden on overworked employees is to shift the staffing structure wherever possible to provide the most help in the least-staffed areas.
In a hospital, for example, keeping the optometry floor fully staffed is not as essential as having enough nurses and doctors in the ICU. Floating optometrists to help with tasks in the ICU can reduce the burden on this higher-priority floor.
Eliminate Rote, Repetitive Employee Tasks
Too many healthcare workers spend time and energy on rote, repetitive tasks throughout their shifts that they could be dedicating to caring for their patients. For example, administrative assistants often spend hours each day calling optometry patients to confirm their appointments or informing them that they need to reschedule due to staffing shortages.
One way to take the burden off these healthcare workers is to eliminate repetitive tasks wherever possible and replace them with automated processes. Weave Messages allows organizations to send automatic texts to patients reminding them about upcoming appointments. These texts sound personalized without needing to come from an actual worker.
The Weave platform is simple and easy to incorporate into healthcare organizations’ daily functions, creating a fast and effective solution to save time and reduce employee workload.
Unify Teams Across Office Locations
Optometry practices that operate several locations throughout a region can unify their teams to create a more even staffing balance and place all hands on deck during periods of severe shortages. Weave Unify is an excellent resource to connect staffing teams across several office locations.
Weave Unify features a multi-office, multi-department, and multi-provider phone system that allows teams spanning various offices to answer calls, see patient data, and complete tasks for each other.
Implementing processes that allow multiple offices to work together and delegate tasks evenly creates stronger company loyalty and helps fill in gaps when some teams are smaller than others.
Slowly rolling out each of these solutions could allow optometry practices and other healthcare organizations to better grasp the stress and burden of staffing shortages. However, serious changes will need to occur within the healthcare industry to address this growing problem adequately.
If you’re interested in learning more about how the Weave platform can automate your practice, so you can worry less about staff availability request a demo today.