The risks of health care staffing shortages

Health care accounted for more than 16 million jobs in the U.S. through December 2018, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest Employment Situation Summary. That number results from steady growth in the sector over the past several years – most recently, 284,000 new positions in 2017 and 346,000 in 2018. This trend will likely continue over the next several years – the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook predicted a 15 percent growth rate in the profession between 2016 and 2026, much faster than many other jobs. With so many new job openings, the risk of a staffing shortfall is quite real, and it is critical for those in many organizations directly or tangentially related to health care to fully understand its causes and ramifications. 

Root of the potential shortage

As noted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, most predictions of potential shortages in health care, which date back more than a decade, center around the possible nursing shortage in the U.S. Many expect that such a deficiency will truly begin to manifest itself in 2020. However, the issue at the root of that shortfall is one of great enough magnitude to affect all segments of the health care industry to various degrees, including support positions like IT personnel for health insurance providers and medical facilities. Namely, it's the steadily growing population of U.S. residents aged 65 and over.

The Census Bureau expects this demographic to total 78 million individuals by 2035. Before then – by 2030 – all baby boomers will have reached retirement age, and many of them will need regular palliative care for the treatment of any number of conditions associated with growing older. The increased requirements of patient care will almost certainly extend to all of the services that are essential to providing it, which range from the development of new cloud-based telehealth platforms and medical devices to the proper handling of insurance claims in compliance with all applicable state and federal regulations. For example, according to CNN Money, there will also likely be shortages in lab technicians, technologists and other IT personnel.

In a nutshell, numerous experts believe there may not be enough health care professionals available overall to meet the steadily growing level of demand. 

Potential risks arising from health care staff shortfalls

Health care is bound to have a plethora of open jobs, per the data from the BLS noted above – but there's no certainty as to whether all of those available positions will actually be filled with appropriately qualified personnel, or at what pace. Any shortage of health care staff – not just a paucity of clinical medical personnel – could, most critically, jeopardize patients' lives. It could also adversely affect general clinical operations and administrative responsibilities in a wide variety of health care organizations, as well as the firms that support them. Major effects on patient care resulting from a deficiency of qualified nurses include:

  • Higher patient mortality rates: Multiple studies have found a correlation between medical facilities without sufficient personnel to appropriately treat the patients admitted to their halls and a greater risk of patients' deaths. Notably, Jack Needleman, Ph.D., wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that understaffed units had a 6 percent greater mortality rate than those with full contingents of personnel. 
  • Greater workloads for the remaining available personnel: Hospitals, clinics, other medical facilities and businesses providing support services for health care that do not have a sufficient contingent of staff on the payroll put excessive burdens on those who are available – everyone from clinical medical staff to administrative personnel handling logistics, insurance claims, billing, collection and much more. In addition to the detrimental effects on patient's well-being described in the first point, greater workloads increase the chances of personnel experiencing frustration and exhaustion that leads to eventual burnout, further reducing staff totals.

Proper approaches to mitigate the shortage

The ripple effects of a health care staffing shortage may reach far outside the boundaries of the health care field. Along with the risks to many people's lives, countless businesses directly or tangentially connected to health care may also experience difficulties that affect their bottom line, personnel or both.

Recruiters who will be responsible for bringing on staff to fill open roles in this industry must be discriminating and meticulous in terms of the candidates they select and ultimately provide with job offers. For one, they should search for applicants who have at least four-year college degrees – and, in some cases, a master's degree – as well as experience in the most intense environments within the profession. Working with Marchon Partners' intelligent and experienced staffing professionals can help make this process go more smoothly.