Effects of healthcare staffing shortages and how to solve them

January 8, 2024 by Experian Health

Effects of healthcare staffing shortages and how to solve them

Today, U.S. healthcare providers struggle with three significant challenges affecting care delivery—each resulting from chronic healthcare workforce shortages. Ultimately, these challenges threaten the fiscal health of the country’s most critical care safety nets. Over 80% of the healthcare C-suite say the chronic staffing shortage creates significant risk for their organizations. The effects of healthcare staffing shortages are severe – Experian Health’s recent survey of revenue cycle leaders found these executives unanimously agreed that staffing shortages impact cash flow, patient engagement, and the work environment of their current staff.

Experian Health’s new survey, Short Staffed for the Long-Term, polled 200 revenue cycle employees to determine the effects of healthcare staffing shortages on patients, the workforce, and their facilities. What did these teams say about the healthcare workforce shortage and the state of care delivery? Find out by downloading the full report.

Healthcare providers experience a vicious cycle, and the effects of healthcare staffing shortages can be seen in many different areas. For example, it makes it harder for existing team members to register patients on the front end of the encounter. On the back end, revenue cycle staff face higher workloads and stress leading to preventable reimbursement claims errors and missed collections opportunities. Ultimately, that stress leads to staff turnover, exacerbating the healthcare workforce shortage. This article dives into three effects of healthcare staffing shortages and how providers can combat them.

Result 1: Short-staffed providers struggle with reimbursement and cash flow.

  • 70% of respondents who say staff shortages affect payer reimbursement also report escalating denial rates.
  • 83% report it’s harder to follow up on late payments or help patients struggling to pay their bills.

Costs are up, and cash flow is down. Claims denials are increasing by 15% annually. Reimbursement rates continue to decline even as denials rise and patient debt increases. These are the revenue cycle challenges healthcare providers face on top of the chronic healthcare staffing shortage. Healthcare organizations must look for new ways to improve reimbursements while engaging patients and staff to benefit everyone involved.

Experian Health’s Short Staffed for the Long-Term report noted two of the most significant revenue channels for healthcare providers, claims reimbursement and collections, are experiencing significant challenges.

Reimbursement denials tie up cash flow in an endless cat-and-mouse game of revenue collection. HealthLeaders termed 2023 as, “the year of reducing denials for revenue cycle.” Their statistics further reinforce Experian Health data correlating increasing denial rates with the healthcare staffing shortage.

Simultaneously, healthcare providers find it harder to collect from patients. High self-pay costs lead to lower patient collection rates. One study showed patient collections declining from 76% in 2020 to 55% in 2021. Providers desperately need a more patient-centered collections process that helps these customers understand their cost obligations and payment options. Integrating automated collections solutions can also help providers do more with less.

Healthcare stakeholders must collaborate to devise innovative solutions that prioritize workforce augmentation and streamline financial workflows. Technology can solve these problems by automating manual revenue cycle processes that lead to delayed reimbursements. New solutions that use artificial intelligence (AI) software can help in other areas (like claims denials) to save staff time and reduce workloads.

Result 2: A lack of staff directly impacts successful patient engagement.

  • Surveyed staff say 55% of patients experience engagement issues at scheduling and intake.
  • 40% say patient estimates suffer, leading to potential miscommunications in credit and collections.

Experian Health’s The State of Patient Access, 2023: The Digital Front Door reported patients and providers believe healthcare access is worsening. 87% of providers in the survey blamed the effects of healthcare staffing shortages. Earlier data from ECRI shows patients wait longer for care, and nearly 50% of providers say access is worse.

Over 100 academic studies in the past two decades confirm the correlation between poor patient health outcomes and industry staff shortages. Existing staff members may take on heavier workloads to cover gaps in patient care. The resulting fatigue can impact the quality of care delivery. When healthcare organizations are short-staffed, each team member may spend less time with patients, resulting in rushed assessments and potentially missed diagnoses.

Staff shortages can impact every phase of the patient journey, beginning with patient scheduling and potentially delayed essential medical services. On the backend, patients suffer when the pressure staff members feel to work faster causes preventable errors leading to healthcare claim denials. Collections suffer, as frustrations mount, and healthcare staff waste time on patients who are simply unable to pay.

The adverse effects of staffing shortages in healthcare weaken with technology to improve the patient experience at every stage of their encounter. Better technology lessens the burden of care for staff by automating mundane administrative tasks so every provider can focus on serving patients—not filling out forms.

Improving patient engagement starts at the beginning of the healthcare encounter. For example, patient scheduling software can create a seamless online experience that halves appointment booking time. More than 70% of patients say they prefer the control these self-scheduling portals offer, putting access to care back in their hands. Patient payment estimation software creates much-needed healthcare price transparency, improving satisfaction by eliminating financial surprises after treatment. These solutions, combined with automated revenue cycle management software, can streamline healthcare processes and improve patient experiences.

Result 3: Overwork is the norm as staff work environments decline and turnover increases.

  • 37% of survey respondents report issues with staff burnout.
  • 29% list the departure of experienced staff as one of their top challenges.

Whether in frontend care delivery or backend revenue cycle, overworked and stressed healthcare professionals are more susceptible to making mistakes, diminishing the overall quality of the patient experience. The attention to detail, a critical component in a complex, high-stakes business, may be compromised due to the strain on the existing staff.

When a healthcare organization is short-staffed, it increases the stress on the existing employees. In turn, this contributes to higher turnover rates. Job dissatisfaction and increased stress levels create a challenging work environment, perpetuating the cycle of staffing shortages. Recruiting and training new staff to fill these gaps further exacerbate the strain on existing teams.

One area that is critically impacted by staffing shortages is seen in claims management, as claim denials continue to increase, which cost American healthcare providers an estimated 2.5% of their gross revenues annually. Billions of reimbursement dollars logjam in the endless cycle of claims submissions, rejections, and manual mitigations. In 2022, the cost of denials management increased by 67%. Revenue cycle staff, stretched to their limits by staffing shortages, will likely continue to make preventable mistakes during patient intake and claims submission.

However, automating claims management with a solution like ClaimSource® can help lower denial rates and ease this burden.  This solution delivers increased operational efficiencies and effectiveness by prioritizing claims, payments and denials so that users can work the highest impact accounts first. Other solutions, like Claim Scrubber, can improve claim accuracy before submission, by submitting clean and accurate claims every time. These technologies enable healthcare providers to reduce claims denials while relieving some of the terrible pressure felt by their financial teams to work harder and faster. By automating clean claims submissions, healthcare organizations free up their teams to focus on taking better care of patients—and themselves.

Healthcare staffing shortages + manual revenue cycle = Unsustainability

What happens to a process that heavily relies on human labor—when there aren’t enough people to go around? In the case of the healthcare revenue cycle, it means staffing shortages heavily impact a hospital’s ability to collect revenue.

Medical Economics reports that 78% of providers still conduct patient collections with traditional paper statements or other manual processes. In an era of talent shortages, these manual processes bog down the entire organization with no relief in sight. Overwork leads to burnout, a significant problem in the industry that also contributes to staff turnover.

But this is exactly how digital technology can solve the healthcare staffing shortage. While AI and automation can’t help providers find the staff they need, it can eliminate manual tasks and reduce errors that lead to more work, staff burnout, and patient care disruption. McKinsey says automation can eliminate approximately half of the activities employees now perform. It could considerably improve the work environments for revenue cycle staff, allowing them to focus on high-value tasks, and engage patients in more caring and personalized experiences.

Experian Health offers providers proven technologies to increase revenue, improve patient care, and lessen the strain on existing staff, to combat the effects of healthcare staffing shortages. Contact Experian Health today to get started.

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