Even before the pandemic, recruiting and retaining a quality team ranked among the top concerns of independent physicians. Staffing has become more of a challenge with individuals experiencing burnout and deciding to either take a break or leave the field completely. Here are some tips for addressing staffing concerns in your independent practice.
Staffing challenges have hit most industries in the past couple of years, primarily due to the effects of the pandemic. In healthcare, many practices severely reduced their hours or shifted to virtual care in the early days of the outbreak and are now in need of a full clinic staff again. US News & World Report reports that healthcare employment continues to be below pre-pandemic levels, with worker numbers down by 1.1% or 176,000 people, as compared to February 2020.
Your independent practice’s staffing levels are important not only for your workflow, but also for patient safety and for reducing the potential for burnout in current team members. A smaller team that is responsible for a full patient panel can quickly grow tired and overly stressed. Even with the use of technology such as electronic health record (EHR) software to manage patient data and handle tasks such as scheduling and billing, your staff may still feel the negative effects of being overworked.
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The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) offers some strategies that can help you address staffing concerns in your independent practice:
- Reward your current staff to ensure they feel valued and appreciated. The reward could be monetary, such as a “commitment bonus” or extra benefits or perks, including treating the staff to lunch or dinner. An ongoing word of appreciation and encouragement can also go a long way for existing team members to remain loyal.
- Consider reducing patient access hours during the day or days during the week. Reducing your schedule to four days a week and/or rotating time off can help accommodate your staffing needs. You could also try staggering staff start times or institute flex scheduling for your team members.
- Limit the availability of walk-in appointments to certain hours or certain days. This strategy can help you more effectively plan the workload of your clinic staff each day so they can be more prepared for scheduled appointments.
- Take advantage of EHR software to automate certain functions. Technology that enables your practice to automatically call patients with appointment reminders, enables patients to check in online, and enables online billing and payments can significantly reduce your current staff’s workload.
- Continue to embrace telehealth options for your patients. Remote accessibility can reduce the logistics requirements for your team’s support for in-person care. Telehealth can help take some of the burden off your current clinic staff.
When recruiting for new staff members, broaden your search scope. Many independent practices have turned to retired nurses and other staff who may want to rejoin your team. As the number of COVID-19 cases drop and as vaccinations become more readily available and more effective, former team members may feel more comfortable returning to the healthcare field and to your independent practice. For those not wanting to return full-time, creating part-time positions can result in a fully staffed practice and a more satisfied team.
In your applicant screening process, look for people skills when hiring for administrative positions such as front desk and billing staff. The ability to interact with people appropriately and to leave patients with a positive impression of your independent practice is more important for these types of positions and for your practice’s success than healthcare experience.