Why Now is the Right Time to Double Down on Digital Workforce Management

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By doubling down on digital investments that transform the workplace, organizations improve their workforce management through the end of the crisis and build up their digital capabilities for a promising future.

The global pandemic has turned the world of healthcare delivery upside down. Hospitals and private clinics face significant revenue shortfalls with the disappearance of non-COVID-related procedures and surgeries—leading to layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts for the workforce. Meanwhile, the federal government has promised aid, but it may not be enough.

Yet, despite the gloomy outlook, the crisis as some would term this to be the Amazon Moment for healthcare—that is, an opportunity to digitally transform the entire industry. The pandemic has fundamentally changed the willingness of organizations to deliver healthcare services remotely. Provider-friendly regulatory changes such as relaxed licensure requirements and an overall expansion of covered services are laying the foundation for these changes to continue. Available, scalable technology makes further progress possible.

Looking forward, the strategic use of technology will become essential for healthcare organizations—and employing it to improve workforce management offers a natural starting point. Labor accounts for 50% of organizational expenses. What's more, workers play a pivotal role in the patient experience and quality of care. By doubling down on digital investments that transform the workplace, organizations improve their workforce management through the end of the crisis and build up their digital capabilities for a promising future.

Here are five digital investments in workforce management to consider as you navigate a genuinely new world of healthcare:

1. Learning experience platforms

Redeployed clinical staff has quickly adapted to new environments, patients, procedures, and equipment. In the post-pandemic world, these learnings will translate into valuable training materials to prepare staff for future outbreaks. Learning experience platforms, tightly integrated with traditional learning management systems, can transform traditional job training and help staff during the regular flow of work. For instance, some leading platforms offer just-in-time, adaptive, and personalized training experiences that engage front-line workers. In addition, immersive learning platforms enable virtual, real-life training experiences at no risk to actual patients.

2. Virtual care and telehealth

Stay-at-home orders combined with safety protocols aimed at stopping the virus spread have accelerated the adoption of telehealth—delivery organizations are seeing a 5x to 10x increase in telehealth usage. Organizations will likely continue to expand their telehealth capabilities, including implementing interactive chat-box features for helping patients self-triage and directing patients to the right resources. There's also the potential to integrate telehealth with electronic health record (EHR) workflows and video-based clinician visits. All of this can enable and improve multi-site staff management. On the virtual care front, organizations will adopt more remote monitoring and self-reporting technologies that allow clinicians to assess patient health from afar.

3. Data analytics and artificial intelligence

Numerous innovations are taking off at the intersection of advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, and back-office and clinical operations. Some of the most useful applications include workforce and demand forecasting, candidate sourcing, employee assessment, and improving the recruiting and onboarding experience. On the clinical ops side, there's also been a significant uptick in the areas of image-based diagnostics, precision medicine, and population health, all of which can help alleviate the workload on staff and improve the quality of care.

4. Workforce automation and optimization

Planning for fluctuations in demand and optimizing the healthcare workforce accordingly will continue to be a challenge in the future. Intelligent workforce planning and scheduling optimization tools can truly help organizations transform their workforce management efforts. In addition, applications that enable organizations to automatically address employee call outs, redistribute tasks, handle shift changes, and more are becoming key operational differentiators. Investments in these areas can lead to 15% to 20% improvements in labor budgets.

5. Employee experience transformation

The pandemic has put growing pressure on job security and improving the employee experience. Focusing on the latter is critical. Consider that a one percentage point increase in staff engagement correlates with a half-point increase in patient satisfaction scores, which, in turn, influences value-based reimbursement programs. Employee experience platforms can help in many ways, from enabling open communication to offering tools for driving and measuring employee engagement and even providing self-service features such as shift management, payroll applications, and more.

The pandemic has opened up a significant opportunity also to transform an industry that’s long been reluctant to change. By investing in workforce-related digital innovation, organizations can build stronger connections with employees, create much-needed cost-savings through efficiencies, and ultimately enhance the patient experience in the process.

Craig Kane and Chris Paddison are partners in global strategy and management consulting firm, Kearney’s Health practice. Anshuman Jaiswal and Sachin Mahishi are principals in the firm’s Digital Transformation practice.