The HR Challenges Shaping the Healthcare Industry

Healthcare is one of the largest industries in the US. This article outlines the biggest current and future HR challenges in healtcare.

Healthcare providers run the gamut from mega hospital complexes to neighborhood physicians and dental facilities. The challenges for many — no matter how large or small — are similar.

Staffing needs, human capital management and growth are priority for every business. For healthcare providers, the additional consideration of patient outcomes can add even more weight to the gravity of the HR role.

What Does HR Do in Healthcare?

The healthcare HR professional does more than hire nurses and doctors. Physical plant management, billing, sanitation and food services are often part of even a small provider’s facility. The range of candidates sourced, interviewed, managed and hired run from PhDs to entry level, with everything in between. The variety of staffing needs, ongoing personnel management, training and development all fall under the responsibility of HR in the health industry.  

The American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration states the role of the HR professional in the healthcare industry is critical to patient outcomes. Similar to other HR professional credentialing, they provide healthcare HR certification, industry-specific training and development.

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The 5 Biggest Current HR Issues in Healthcare

The issues that face healthcare HR professionals today and tomorrow mirror much of what other employers are experiencing in the market, but often with a very specific twist.

1. Recruitment in Healthcare

As with other industries, healthcare is challenged by today’s talent shortages. Competition for new grads in all disciplines of the medical field is fierce. Recruitment overall with market conditions is difficult.

With a shrinking talent pool and a growing age demographic — as baby boomers hit retirement age by the millions annually — the pressure on healthcare recruiters shows no relief on the horizon.  

But with the additional consideration of patient care and safety, the recruitment process becomes more involved. Validation of certifications and licensure at the onset of hiring must be meticulous. Required ongoing training, recertification and reinstatement is another responsibility for HR.

For the non-medical professional hire, patient care and safety remains a concern. Workers who come in contact with patients, even peripherally, can cause harm: background checks must be rigorous and thorough to avoid problems and potential liability.   

2. Wage Competition

As the market for talent grows tighter, wages are slowly beginning to rise. For smaller facilities, competing at the wage level can be almost impossible. For healthcare HR professionals to succeed in winning the war on talent, they often turn to work-life balance options to attract. Flexible scheduling, more available time off, and other options often make the smaller facility more attractive.

3. Turnover and Retention

Studies vary slightly, but in general, hospital turnover in 2018 was at 19.1%, with nursing staff specifically at 17.2%. This puts about 1 in 5 employees leaving their facility every year. In some states, the turnover rate for healthcare workers overall is double the national average for other jobs.

Experts disagree about all the contributing factors, but many suggest shifts in organizational culture are needed to retain workers for all levels of providers.

For nursing professionals, data reveals nearly 30% are looking for a new position within their field: almost 5% looking to switch fields entirely. With projections for 5% growth in the category through 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a nursing shortage to intensify as less enter the field and more demand is placed on providers by aging Americans.

For the healthcare HR professional, a growing need and shrinking talent availability will require more creative solutions to lower turnover and increase retention at all levels of staff.

4. Burnout

All industries experience burnout, but for healthcare, burnout is often more intense. In nursing alone, one in three professionals have some regrets about their career choice. The same numbers appear as burnout for medical and surgical specialties.

With job satisfaction a new imperative for all industries, the need to address the stresses work puts on staffers in healthcare is significant. Not only can staff members suffer, but patient outcomes can be seriously impacted by staff not at the top of their game. For healthcare HR professionals, understanding the warning signs of burnout and intervening positively can be critical for the staff member and the facility.

5. Training and Development

Ongoing training, licensure and development are important in many industries. In healthcare, they’re critical. For the healthcare HR professional, keeping abreast of all the certifications employees hold, must hold, or must attain is often a job in and of itself. The larger the facility, the more likely a single professional will manage the process. But smaller facilities have no less responsibility.

In additional to medical credentialing, HR is tasked with all other training and development. Compliance training may be mandatory, as may be training on sexual harassment recognition and other workplace issues. Add to the mix training that grows employee skills and competencies: digitization, leadership, soft skills and more.

The healthcare HR professional must juggle time for training that is legally required with training that helps employees develop personally and professionally.

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The Future HR Issues That Will Impact the Healthcare Industry

HR professionals within the healthcare field already face pressing issues. But there are additional challenges arising that will have long-lasting effects across the sector.

Here are three issues likely to have the largest impact in the coming years.

1. Safety

Although exposure to infectious disease may seem like the only safety hazard for healthcare professionals, healthcare HR knows better. The CDC highlights a host of other risks these workers face: chemical and physical hazards, workplace stress among a few.

For many, physical safety is threatened on a daily basis. OSHA puts the risk of workplace assaults for healthcare providers, including home health and social service professionals, at four times that of private industry. According to their data, even though less than 20% of workplace injuries occur in the healthcare industry, 50% of assaults are committed against healthcare workers. For the two years between 2011 and 2013, over 70% of 25,000 annual workplace attacks reported occurred in healthcare and social service settings. These workers represent over 10% of the workplace injuries that result in days off the job, compared to 3% of private sector employees.

Stressful situations, access to drugs, and other factors put this workforce at risk. Some industry leaders are calling violence against healthcare professionals an epidemic. Many facilities are turning to basics like metal detectors at all access points. One clinic confiscated 30,000 weapons from patients and visitors in 2018.

In addition to the need to minimize risk to patients, healthcare HR professionals often must be ever vigilant in attempts to mitigate risk to staff members.

2. Digitization

If you’ve been to a hospital lately you know the “chart” has given way to digital versions of patient records. Bar codes are scanned on wrist bands, medicines given and in surgical suites to assure records are accurate and current.

For the healthcare professional, digital upgrades are a continuum. New technology is changing the way medicine is administered and staff members must be up-to-date. For HR that will mean training, assessment and forecasting: what technology, implemented today, is being used properly, ignored or underutilized? What new tech will change how we administer healthcare in the future?

An ongoing need to assess, develop and prepare for the digital revolution will be needed to keep abreast of all the changes technology will bring.  

3. Privacy

As patient information shifts to digital, issues of privacy and data protection become more urgent. Regulations on patient data privacy and security will likely pressure healthcare HR professionals and add to concerns about mobile and digital tools. For many, this will require intensive training for staff members.

As in most industries, the highest risk for data breach lies in the hands of employees. One study put 71% of healthcare cybersecurity incidents at the hands of staff members: 58% inadvertent, 18% intentional. Of the data breached, 79% was patient information, 37% personal information, and another 4% included payment data. The average cost per medical record data breach was 69% greater than the national average.

As the bulk of risk lies with employees, the majority of which is unintentional, the need for training and awareness will only increase. For the healthcare HR professional, ongoing development will be a must in any size facility.

HR professionals in all industries face the challenges of today’s market and tomorrow’s uncertainty. But for professionals in the healthcare industry, from the largest facility to the smallest neighborhood dental office, risk to employees and patients must be top of mind in all decision making and planning processes.

This article is intended only for informational purposes. It is not a substitute for legal consultation. While we attempt to keep the information covered timely and accurate, laws and regulations are subject to change.

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