Healthcare AI
May 23, 2024

How To Fix Staffing Shortages in Healthcare

Learn how AI can address healthcare staffing shortages by improving efficiency, supporting decision-making, and enhancing recruitment processes.
How To Fix Staffing Shortages in Healthcare

Staffing shortages in healthcare are now considered a public health crisis. Though the problem existed a few years before, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and accelerated them. 

Labor statistics indicate that the healthcare sector lost 20% of its workforce during the pandemic, including 30% of nurses. The top reason for leaving their job, receiving 26% of the votes, is that nurses in the U.S. feel staffing levels are insufficient

Additionally, in an international Ipsos survey of more than 23,000 people, 42% identified staff shortages as the primary problem in their country's health system, ranking it as the #1 concern globally.

AI offers transformative solutions that enhance efficiency, support clinical decision-making, and improve training and recruitment processes. By integrating AI, healthcare organizations can address these challenges, creating a more supportive and efficient work environment that attracts and retains skilled professionals and essentially improves patient outcomes. 

Key Takeaways

  • The healthcare industry faces an urgent challenge: staffing shortages. High-level healthcare executives consistently cite difficulties finding qualified staff and the prohibitive costs of employing healthcare professionals in a post-COVID world. 
  • To address this crisis, healthcare organizations should focus on retaining current staff without overburdening them, inviting former employees to return, and attracting new talent. 
  • While AI has the potential to replace some human roles, its most compelling benefit lies in enhancing the work environment, automating workflow, and enabling healthcare professionals to focus on core tasks to relieve them from being overworked and burnt out.

What Is Causing Healthcare Staffing Shortages?

The healthcare staffing crisis is multifaceted, driven by overwork, burnout, an aging workforce, educational constraints, and competitive job markets. Understanding these causes is crucial for developing effective solutions.

By 2033, the U.S. will face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians and will need to hire at least 200,000 nurses annually to meet demand and replace retiring nurses. According to survey estimates, this growing demand will contribute to a shortage of up to 3.2 million healthcare workers by 2026.

This shortage affects all health care workers, including doctors, nurses, techs, and aides. They are leaving, and replacing them is becoming harder and costlier. 

Before suggesting how AI can address these challenges, it's important to understand the root causes of healthcare staffing shortages.

1. Overwork and Burnout

Many healthcare workers, including registered nurses and certified nursing assistants, face extreme workloads and high patient volumes, leading to burnout and high nurse turnover rates

The demanding nature of this profession, intensified by the pandemic, has pushed many to leave the field. This increased demand for healthcare staff also impacts administration, requiring professionals across the board to take on additional responsibilities. 

2. Aging Workforce

A large portion of the nursing workforce is approaching retirement age, leading to a decline in available skilled professionals and a deepening nurse shortage. 

Simultaneously, fewer young people are entering the profession due to perceived stresses and challenges. Furthermore, COVID has worsened these trends, causing many to reconsider their career paths in healthcare. 

3. Aging Population

Beyond the causes mentioned, societal factors such as an aging population increase the demand for healthcare services. As the baby boomer generation ages, the proportion of people over 65 will rise from 16% to 21% this year. 

Statistic stating by 2030 one in five Americans will 65 or older

4. Education Bottlenecks

The shortage of nurse educators and limited capacity in nursing programs hinder the graduation of enough future nurses to meet this need. The rise in education costs, especially for nursing schools, further amplifies this issue.

5. Competitive Job Market

The high demand for healthcare professionals, especially when it comes to the nursing shortage, drives up costs and makes it challenging for healthcare facilities to compete for new staff.

6. Workers Switching Professions

All previously listed reasons and concerns about mental health, well-being, and lack of work fulfillment are major factors driving this trend. Concerns about safety during the pandemic had more nurses leaving the public health industry altogether. 

More and more healthcare professionals continue to increasingly look for opportunities outside of their main specialization.

7. Geographical Disparities

Rural and underserved areas struggle even more to attract and retain healthcare professionals, deepening regional disparities in healthcare access.

8. Pandemic-Related Challenges

As mentioned, the COVID-19 pandemic has strained healthcare systems globally, leading to increased workloads, stress, and burnout among healthcare professionals. 

An estimated 1.5 million healthcare workers were lost in the first two months of the COVID-19 outbreak. Though many of those people have since returned, healthcare employment remains below pre-pandemic levels.

9. Difficulty Training and Onboarding New Staff

Rapidly training new staff to fill gaps can be challenging and costly, and the onboarding process often lacks the resources needed to be effective.

How to Fix Staffing Shortages in Healthcare

Healthcare organizations can mitigate staffing shortages by implementing telehealth technology, retaining current staff, encouraging former employees to return, and hiring new staff in the healthcare workforce. 

Recruitment strategies need to go beyond just filling empty positions in an industry struggling with increasing turnover rates. Artificial intelligence can support these efforts by analyzing workforce data, identifying trends, and suggesting effective solutions.

AI also presents an opportunity to enhance efficiency, reduce burnout, and attract new talent to the field. Implementing AI tools enables employees to concentrate on their core responsibilities, alleviating the burden of repetitive and minor tasks and enhancing overall job and patient satisfaction.

Generative AI can transform healthcare by automating administrative tasks, supporting clinical decision-making, and improving training and recruitment processes.

Case Studies and Real-World Applications

We developed an AI agent specializing in labeling medical notes. This is one of many examples of our customer stories that have directly increased accuracy and reduced the time staff spends on manual work.

Several healthcare organizations have already successfully integrated AI to combat staffing shortages and improve operational efficiency. Here are a few examples:

  1. Cleveland Clinic: Implemented AI-driven scheduling software that helps caregivers monitor, manage, and predict bed availability, patient demand, operating room (OR), and staffing schedules.
  2. Mayo Clinic: Uses AI algorithms to analyze patient data, improving diagnostic accuracy and reducing the workload on physicians. Their Remote Diagnostics and Management Platform (RDMP) integrates data with advanced AI algorithms to enhance human decision-making within clinical workflows.
  3. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital: Utilizes AI for streamlining workflow to handle administrative tasks such as appointment scheduling and tracking when employees clock in and out, freeing up staff to focus on direct patient care.

Artificial Intelligence as a Solution in Healthcare

According to an Ipsos/Google poll conducted across 17 countries in fall 2023, 45% of respondents view medical breakthroughs as a top application of AI, and 36% see research and development as highly important. Workers are aware that AI is likely to change their jobs, but contrary to conventional wisdom, a majority globally think the changes will be positive, improving speed and efficiency.

There are many benefits to AI Automated Healthcare Solutions. AI can streamline many administrative and repetitive tasks that currently burden healthcare professionals. For instance, AI-powered systems can handle appointment scheduling, patient data entry, and billing processes. By automating these tasks, AI reduces the administrative workload on healthcare workers, allowing them to focus more on quality care.

Let’s dive deeper into how AI, specifically Predictive AI, can help with this and offer a few examples. These capabilities help allocate resources more efficiently, reduce the burden on healthcare staff, and ultimately improve health services overall.

Automating Repetitive Administrative Tasks

Automating administrative tasks like paperwork is the key to reducing the workload on healthcare staff, especially physicians and nursing professionals. AI systems can efficiently read, analyze, process, and sort large volumes of documents and data. These typically include insurance forms, patient questionnaires, and other complicated paperwork. 

By handling these repetitive tasks, AI reduces the administrative burden on staff, lowers healthcare costs, and addresses one of the primary causes of burnout among physicians and nurses. 

Forecasting Supply Shortages and Outbreaks

AI can analyze inventory data, regional trends, and global events to forecast supply shortages. This foresight allows healthcare facilities to proactively source supplies and plan and prepare for any potential shortages. 

Predictive AI can also provide early warnings of disease outbreaks by analyzing patterns in patient symptoms, emergency room visit data, and even social media trends. Identifying early signs gives valuable time to mobilize resources and potentially prevent a full-blown crisis like we had a few years ago.

This way, healthcare organizations will not be overwhelmed by sudden patient surges and staff burnout, or lack thereof. 

Reducing Burnout with AI-Driven Scheduling

An AI-driven scheduling system can optimize shifts for many nurses, considering factors like availability, preferences, and skill levels. This ensures fair distribution of tasks and improves job satisfaction and work-life balance, reducing burnout and turnover rates.

AI can also automate patient appointment scheduling to decrease workloads so staff can focus more on patient care.

Predictive AI Enhances Personalized Clinical Experience

AI can assist in clinical decision-making by analyzing vast amounts of data quickly and accurately. Predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms can help diagnose conditions, recommend treatments, and predict patient outcomes. This leads to more personalized health services overall.

Jayodita Sanghvi, Senior Director of Data Science at Included Health, told us: "AI has the power to enable us to deeply understand each individual, what their clinical needs are, what their demographic needs are, and if they have any care gaps."

As we have seen in the aforementioned examples of hospitals already utilizing artificial intelligence, AI algorithms can analyze patient data to identify those at risk of complications, enabling early interventions. This way, healthcare professionals can make more informed decisions, improving patient care quality and reducing the stress associated with high-stakes decisions.

Improving Training and Education

AI can revolutionize nursing education by providing personalized learning experiences and simulations. Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) technologies, powered by AI, offer immersive training environments where nursing students and professionals can practice procedures and scenarios without risking patient safety.

icon of VR goggles
The future of healthcare with Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) technologies

This hands-on experience can bridge the gap between theory and practice, producing more competent and confident graduates.

Another way to help with nursing shortages is tuition reimbursement for higher education.

Facilitating Recruitment and Retention

Some healthcare organizations may overlook the potential of technology to enhance medical staff recruitment. What do we mean by that? 

AI can enhance recruitment processes by identifying candidates who are the best fit for specific roles based on their skills and experience. Furthermore, AI can analyze workforce data to identify patterns leading to high turnover rates and suggest interventions to improve retention.

For example, AI tools can analyze the attributes of top-performing employees and use this information to screen potential candidates during the hiring process. Additionally, it can monitor employee satisfaction and predict when someone might be considering leaving, enabling proactive retention strategies.

Offer Career Advancement Opportunities

To tackle long-term staffing challenges, healthcare organizations need to attract new talent to the workforce. This can be accomplished through university and hospital partnerships offering in-house AI model training. That way, future healthcare workers can acquire skills not typically covered by their college curriculum in educational institutions. 

This hands-on experience with advanced AI tools can give them a significant advantage in their future careers, equipping them with practical knowledge and expertise that enhances their employability and professional growth.

How Can Healthcare Organizations Reduce Expenses Without Sacrificing Quality?

We interviewed many business leaders about healthcare and how AI-driven solutions can help with cost reduction. While the initial investment in AI technology can be significant, the long-term savings are substantial. By optimizing workforce management and reducing the need for temporary staffing solutions, healthcare organizations can lower operational costs.

AI can help healthcare organizations reduce expenses by optimizing resource allocation and automating administrative tasks. For example, AI-driven predictive analytics can help anticipate patient needs, reducing unnecessary tests and procedures. Automating administrative functions can also lower operational costs without compromising the quality of care.

Implementing a Targeted Healthcare Staffing Plan

Creating a targeted staffing plan involves several steps:

Step 1: Assess the Current State of Your Organization

Evaluate the current staffing levels, identify gaps, and understand your organization's specific needs. This involves analyzing workforce data and identifying areas where AI can have the most significant impact.

Step 2: Collaborate with Key Stakeholders to Create a Strategic Plan

Engage key stakeholders, including clinical staff, administrators, and IT professionals, to develop a roadmap for AI integration. Co-design solutions that meet the unique needs of your healthcare organization and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Step 3: Develop and Implement Updated Staffing and Care Delivery Models

Redesign staffing models to incorporate AI-driven solutions. This might include AI-powered scheduling systems, remote patient monitoring, and telehealth services. Implement these models and continuously monitor their effectiveness, making adjustments as needed.

Benefits of AI Integration in Healthcare Staffing

Recent changes in healthcare staffing have been driven by the need for more flexible, efficient, and technology-driven models. The integration of AI has been a major factor in these changes, enabling healthcare organizations to optimize their workforce and improve patient care.

We have mentioned the importance of these factors before, but let’s look at them through the lens of AI implementation.

Attracting New Employees

By creating a more efficient and less stressful work environment, AI makes the healthcare profession more attractive to potential recruits. When healthcare workers know that they will spend their time on meaningful patient interactions rather than tedious administrative tasks, they are more likely to enter and remain in the field.

Enhancing Job Satisfaction

AI reduces the burden of repetitive tasks and supports healthcare professionals in their decision-making processes, enhancing professional gratification. Satisfied employees are less likely to leave their positions, contributing to lower turnover rates and a more stable workforce.

Improving Patient Care

AI enhances the accuracy and efficiency of patient care, leading to better health outcomes. This benefits patients and improves the reputation of healthcare organizations, making them more attractive employers.

Overcoming Challenges in AI Implementation

Despite its potential, integrating AI into healthcare is not without challenges. Here are some common obstacles and strategies to overcome them:

Data Privacy and Security

Illustration showing data security with icons of a computer monitor, globe, shield, gear, and a padlock connected in a circular layout, representing protection and safety in data management
Ensuring Data safety and security across all platforms

Healthcare organizations must ensure that AI systems comply with regulations such as HIPAA to protect patient data. Implementing robust security measures and ensuring transparency in data usage are crucial.

Resistance to Change

Healthcare professionals may hesitate to adopt AI technologies due to fear of job displacement or skepticism about AI's effectiveness. When we talked to Dr. Harvey Castro, MD, MBA, on our Pioneers podcast about the future of healthcare AI, he explained that just as earlier automation eliminated some jobs but ultimately elevated the quality of work, assistive AI is designed to enhance the field of medicine through collaboration, not replacement. 

These technologies handle repetitive tasks, allowing human wisdom to focus on what computers cannot achieve. Providing thorough training and demonstrating the tangible benefits of AI can help mitigate these concerns.

Integration with Existing Systems

Seamless integration of AI with existing healthcare IT infrastructure is essential for its success. Many older employees are skeptical about these advancements, fearing that a lack of technical expertise will make their jobs even more difficult. Working with experienced AI vendors who understand the healthcare landscape can ease this process.

Future Directions and Innovations

The future of AI in healthcare is changing, with several emerging trends and innovations set to further address staffing shortages:

  1. AI-powered telemedicine: Telemedicine platforms enhanced with AI can provide preliminary diagnoses and answer common patient questions 24/7. They can also offer appointment reminders and triage basic symptoms, reducing the workload on healthcare facilities and enabling more efficient use of resources. This would free up phone lines and reception staff, allowing patients quicker access to help while ensuring those with urgent needs get prioritized.
  2. Wearable AI devices: Wearable technology equipped with AI can monitor patients' vital signs in real time, alerting healthcare providers to potential issues before they become critical. This would be especially beneficial for chronic patients between appointments by providing medication reminders and monitoring symptoms. This proactive approach can reduce the demand for emergency services and hospital admissions.
  3. AI-enhanced collaborative platforms: AI can facilitate better collaboration among healthcare teams by analyzing communication patterns and suggesting improvements. Enhanced communication can lead to more coordinated care and improve patient outcomes.
Trinity representing smartwatch, smartphone and laptop with healthcare symbols
The future of AI healthcare

What Benefits Do We Expect to See from Generative AI?

Generative AI has the potential to revolutionize healthcare by creating new solutions for old problems. Benefits include improved patient outcomes through personalized care plans, enhanced training programs for healthcare professionals, and more efficient administrative processes. These improvements can lead to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover rates, addressing staffing shortages directly and effectively.

Publicly showcasing AI implementation results is important for transparency and continuous improvement. Healthcare organizations should regularly report on the impact of AI on staffing levels, patient outcomes, and cost savings. Using data analytics, they can provide clear evidence of AI's benefits, fostering trust and encouraging further innovation in the field.

Ready To Explore Customized AI Solutions?

Addressing healthcare staffing shortages requires innovative solutions, and AI presents a compelling opportunity to enhance efficiency, reduce burnout, and attract new staff. Healthcare organizations that embrace AI will alleviate staffing challenges and position themselves as leaders in providing high-quality patient care. 

As we continue to innovate and refine AI technologies, the potential to improve healthcare staffing becomes more attainable. Healthcare leaders need to consider all the benefits AI offers and invest in it to secure the future of their workforce.

Would you like to know more about how generative AI can transform your healthcare organization and improve operational efficiency? Our tailored AI solutions are designed to meet your specific needs, enhancing everything from workforce management to patient care.

Discuss your AI strategy with us and discover how we can implement the right generative AI solutions for your unique challenges. Schedule a free 30-minute call with our team to explore strategic implementations customized specifically for your business.

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