In recent years, the healthcare sector has been hit hard by staffing shortages. Studies project that the U.S. will face serious healthcare worker shortages in the next decade. The healthcare industry can attribute these shortages to many factors, including low morale, loss of jobs due to restrictions in the early stages of COVID-19, and premature retirement of healthcare workers. The most often cited reason to explain healthcare workforce shortages is burnout. Many workers are leaving the industry with no plans to return.
There is no single, straightforward way to solve this problem. Solution proposals range from using technology to make care more accessible, expanding the role of nonclinical healthcare staff like community health workers to triage care needs, and engaging with high school and college students to recruit and incentivize those who may be interested in healthcare professions.
As healthcare organizations launch strategies to resolve this crisis, many are also looking to leverage current investments to address a portion of the impact. As we live in an increasingly digital age, automation poses a solution for burnout and shortages. Furthermore, implementing technology solutions can streamline operational and administrative processes, reducing provider and care team workload and chance of medical errors. Technology solutions support and enhance patient-provider communication, centralize patient data for care teams, and enable telehealth visits. These initiatives all support care teams in delivering high-quality patient care in the face of staffing shortages.
Burnout is the #1 symptom
Healthcare professionals are at high risk for burnout. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the demanding pace, heavy workloads, administrative burdens, time pressures, emotional intensity, and high-pressure decisions care teams face daily. Burnout is defined as a long-term stress reaction, and can present differently for everyone. Commonly, burnout presents as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of a sense of connection to work. Individuals experiencing burnout are at an increased risk for mental health challenges and can experience strain on their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
Burnout and staffing shortages can result in decreased time spent between providers and patients. This can lead to more potential for increased medical errors and preventable complications, poorer patient experience, and worse healthcare outcomes. Addressing burnout must be a high priority to support providers and ensure high-quality care for patients.
How can healthcare organizations support their workforce and minimize factors that impact burnout? One key area of focus is reducing administrative burden. A recent study showed that in addition to spending 1-2 hours each night finalizing administrative work, clinicians spend nearly 2 hours on patient records for every 1 hour spent with patients. Technology solutions can optimize workflows, reduce the time spent on administrative tasks, and improve overall coordination among care teams.
How technology can provide relief
Healthcare workers benefit from simplified communication processes that provide transparency into patient data and needs and enable communication with their colleagues. Technology platforms can allow care team members to communicate seamlessly. Functions like allowing team members to upload information to a central patient channel enable real-time updates across multidisciplinary teams. Care team members can send alerts, communicate with colleagues using instant messaging, notes, audio and video clips, and access the data they need to provide effective care. Improvements in communication have a measurable impact on healthcare worker satisfaction and reduce the time spent on patient notes and notification processes.
Mitigate medical errors
Automating different administrative tasks like setting patient reminders for follow-up visits can reduce medical errors and free up time for more pressing matters. Better communication through technology solutions can also help to reduce medical errors and complications by providing clarity and transparency around patient data. Incorporating messaging, photos, and videos can give greater context and details of a patient’s condition. Technology platforms can facilitate quicker, clearer communication between care teams and help them to prevent avoidable mistakes.
Advances in technology have allowed for an expansion of telehealth capabilities, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While telehealth supports communication between primary care teams and patients, it also expands access to specialists and external partners. Telehealth solutions with specialists not only help patients – but can also support providers in navigating care for their patients. Clinicians can seek second opinions from colleagues or reach out to a specialist at a facility without regard to where the specialist is located. Maximizing the use of telehealth can ensure patients get the best care, are evaluated quickly, and can move on to treatment without delay.
Integrating technology into patient care can also extend the reach of care teams. When patients do not need to rely on a human being to intervene for all requests, care teams are able to serve more patients. Technology solutions such as patient apps, remote monitoring technology, self-education solutions, and access to virtual care can all resolve a patient’s immediate needs where appropriate. Managing recovery from an illness or injury often requires frequent check-ins and communication between providers and patients. Welkin’s Home Health care management solution enables teams to check in with patients via telehealth technology, making it more convenient for both care teams and patients to stay engaged.
How Care Management Technology can help
Welkin works with care teams to meet the challenges today’s providers experience by deploying technology to free up time and enable a focus on patient care. With the right technology, patients are streamlined into the right programs that ensure care teams can share tasks, simplify data entry, and improve patient support.
Automated care delivery
Automating patient programs allows for streamlined workflows and processes. Defining patient stages and escalations based on specific outcomes or conditions allows care teams to work efficiently, rely on technology platforms to support decision-making, and focus on delivering meaningful patient engagement and care.
Welkin’s care management solution can be tailored to automate specific processes including:
Assessments: automate scheduling, trigger intake forms, periodic check-ins and patient feedback forms;
Programs and phases: graduate patients from one phase of a program to the next by defining specific criteria;
Escalations and triage: pathways can be developed for events that need monitoring including adverse events, out-of-range results, specific patient responses, or lack of engagement;
Patient communication: automated emails or texts to patients triggered by an action or inaction, upcoming or missed appointments, or receipt of communication;
Team alerts: automate internal alerts, or trigger email or SMS messages to care team members based off of an action or inaction, update to a patient record, upcoming or missed appointments;
Email sequences: develop email campaigns to support patients or pre-patients by building lists within Welkin;
Tasks: build automations around created, completed, or canceled tasks; and,
Calendar events: automate regularly scheduled check-ins, appointments, and reminders.
The right technology supports care teams in providing coordinated care for every patient. Patient care flows should be comprehensive, intuitive, and logical so that each patient receives the best care and each care team member understands critical next steps, roles, and responsibilities.
Welkin allows care teams to design a comprehensive care journey centered around the patient. Here we break down the patient journey into six stages.
Stage 1: Identification
A provider identifies, qualifies, and enrolls patients in a specific program. Then, they create a patient profile and define communication and care preferences. Lastly, they assign a care team member to the patient.
Stage 2: Assessment
Providers then move patients to the assessment stage, where they can define the patient’s challenges, risks, and goals. The care team also completes assessment forms and outlines patient-centered goals in the patient profile at this stage.
Stage 3: Enrollment
Next, providers enroll patients in the best-suited program for their needs. They assign a care team to the patient, review the care plan, and forward appointment scheduling moves. The care team should also book a first appointment or start date and set reminders to check in on a defined cadence.
Stage 4: Care Delivery
Now, the patient moves into the care delivery phase of the approach. The care team supports the patient and care plan, regularly communicates with the patient, and sets tasks, reminders, and automated follow-ups associated with care. The team also schedules scoring assessments, analyzes results, and tracks patient outcomes.
Stage 5: Course Correct
Course correction keeps the patient’s care plan on track. Alerts, notifications, and tasks identify gaps in care and notify patients when they haven’t adhered to the program or care plan. Providers can see escalations on the patient homepage, adjust the care plan, and redefine goals.
Stage 6: Conclusion or Maintenance
The final stage of the journey is conclusion, or maintenance, depending on the patient’s condition. The care team evaluates outcomes, completes a final assessment, and reviews analytics. The care team should schedule follow-up care and/or maintenance treatment if and when necessary.
Welkin’s customizable approach allows coordination across a variety of care team roles. Internal care team members such as physicians, nurses, other patient care staff, and administrative teams can have set roles and responsibilities. Welkin’s platform can connect patients to multiple members of their care team. Providers can assign care team members single or cross-functional roles with special permissions, task types, and capabilities. Providers can also engage external care team members outside of their healthcare organization. External physicians, clinics, hospitals, and even family members can be incorporated into the platform to share and exchange patient information.
Delivering the right intervention at the right time is essential to support patient care journeys and prevent complications. To enable this, Welkin allows for automated escalations. Care teams can create escalation paths for specific team members when adverse events, out-of-range results, particular responses, or lack of engagement occur. Communication across the team and real-time notifications and alerts ensure that care teams are up to speed on patient progress and needs.
Using technology to support patient care protects care team time and resources, which is increasingly more important as healthcare organizations face challenges like staffing shortages. Welkin enables high-functioning care team models that keep clinicians up-to-date and engaged but reserves clinician time for specific tasks they’re qualified to do. Other care team members can execute defined tasks, allowing clinicians time to focus on what they do best. Care teams can take on more patients, clearly assign roles and responsibilities, and deliver high-quality care.
A centralized platform to track every visit detail allows care teams to streamline care coordination and enable visibility into patient encounters and the patient journey. Welkin supports synchronized care across all encounter types, including office visits, telehealth sessions, and remote patient monitoring. The platform can support individual encounters – such as tracking appointment details for a single individual, including date, time, notes, and disposition. In addition, the platform features group encounters – allowing multiple care teams to tie patients to a single encounter. The platform also enables care teams to set recurring encounters – scheduling a recurring appointment if a repeating date/time needs to be set.
Automating encounter workflows streamlines administrative and operational tasks. Care teams can set up Welkin’s platform to trigger events based on encounter activity. For example, Welkin can automatically send session summaries or patient satisfaction surveys upon encounter completion. Care teams can build escalation paths to automate the next steps if associated encounter assessment or device data exceeds an established threshold or the patient has an adverse event.
Welkin can also send tasks or notifications outside the system to external care team members if a care team member identifies the escalation path during an encounter. Sending encounter data with external systems allows care teams to work more seamlessly with other providers and applications that support a patient’s care. Welkin enables care teams to share encounter data externally, use APIs, or use Welkin’s data export to retrieve data to inform a patient’s care.
Patient-centered care requires ongoing check-ins and communication across multiple care team members and modes of communication. Welkin offers multi-channel communication capabilities that allow care teams to communicate clearly and facilitate a trusting patient-provider relationship.
Welkin has numerous communication channels to support patient and care team communication: HIPAA-compliant email, phone, Zoom video for Healthcare, SMS/MMS text and picture messaging, in-app chat, and WhatsApp messaging. Communication channels also include features such as history, automation, and statistics. Teams can fully manage workflows to ensure they respond to all patient communications, deploy automated messages based on actions or appointments, and analyze patient communications that drive member engagement to update strategies and approaches.
Technology can provide relief
Staffing shortages in the healthcare industry will be the most pressing issue for healthcare organizations to address in coming years. By 2025, experts predict that the U.S. will have shortages of 446,000 home health aides, 95,000 nursing assistants, 98,700 medical and lab technologists and technicians, and more than 29,000 nurse practitioners. The healthcare workforce is struggling with the impact of burnout and the associated physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Burnout impacts patient care and is leading more and more healthcare workers to leave the field altogether. Long-term strategies like investing in public health, recruitment and training efforts, and addressing structural challenges in healthcare will take years to have a measurable impact.
In the near term, healthcare organizations can support their employees in using their time effectively, focusing on patient-centered care, and reducing administrative and operational burdens. Technology designed specifically to support care improves coordination across multiple team members, communication channels, and workflows. Welkin’s custom-designed solution supports a true care team model. Learn more about how the flexibility of Welkin’s healthcare software can help streamline your program.