Healthcare Administrators: Planning Ahead for 2020

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As the calendar turns to a new year, things that are top of mind for most people are keeping New Year’s resolutions.  Most of us want to achieve things that will make us healthier or happier, but for Healthcare Administrators, there are no resolutions that can help answer the many questions that will dominate the healthcare landscape in 2020.  Here are just a few of the topics that healthcare administrators should be planning for in the year ahead.

Physician Retirements

In 2020, one of every three practicing physicians will be of retirement age.  Considering the ultra-competitive physician recruitment landscape, healthcare administrators have to stay out in front of their staff retirements. Aside from the inevitable quality of care issues and placing additional burdens on remaining staff, physician vacancies created by turnover or retirements are a huge threat to already tight margins. The Association of Physician Recruiters (ASPR) has reported that, annually, as many as 40% of physician vacancies go unfilled. These vacancies can result in up to $170,000 per month, depending on the specialty.

The good news is that healthcare administrators can prepare for any potential retirements and ensure that they don’t incur a surprise vacancy.  In a Jackson Physician search survey, 80% of physicians stated that initiating the retirement conversation was their responsibility, but only 52% felt comfortable doing so. This key piece of information bears repeating, ‘only 52% of physicians felt comfortable bringing up the retirement conversation.’  Create an environment or provide your physician staff with a mechanism that will help facilitate retirement discussions. It may be a simple as sending out surveys or even tasking HR with helping walk physicians through the conversation.  Proactively addressing this sensitive subject may result in creating a transition plan that works for the physician and the organization.

Addressing Physician Burnout

As important as it is to proactively discuss potential physician retirements within your staff, it is equally important to ensure you understand your internal levels of physician burnout.  It would be disingenuous to claim that your staff isn’t suffering from any measurable levels of burnout, especially if you reviewed Medscape’s 2019 survey that found 50% of doctors are suffering from burnout, depression, or both.  The key for administrators is to recognize that burnout is a serious problem and find ways to engage your physician staff in understanding what is contributing to it and collaboratively working with them to find solutions.

According to Mayo Clinic research, levels of burnout are improving as more organizations have developed interventional programs, but experts caution that more organizational change and research are necessary to continue the trend. Not surprisingly, a majority of physicians claim that the maintenance of electronic health records continues to be a major stressor that impacts overall job satisfaction. If administrators could focus on one major topic to alleviate physician stress, they would have to look no further than streamlining their eHR process.

Consolidation Climate

Aside from anomalies in 2004 and 2006, the mergers and acquisitions climate in the healthcare industry remained pretty flat until 2010 and the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.  Since then, consolidations have become the name of the game for both health plans and healthcare providers.  Unfortunately, all of these consolidation activities have not resulted in lower costs for consumers, but the move towards achieving economies of scale doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon.  Several factors are feeding the consolidation frenzy, including record-high healthcare spending, continually shrinking margins, and now the wild card of having a transition to value-based reimbursement as opposed to traditional volume-based payments.  In many cases, the success of these record numbers of mergers is yet to be determined, but it is clearly a focus in the industry to keep considering new partnerships to achieve operating efficiencies, cost controls, and greater flexibility to make capital investments.

Digitization of Healthcare

Administrators throughout the healthcare industry can all point to the amount of money they are spending on technology, but much like the consolidation question, it is unclear how much this digital transformation is benefiting consumers.  In many ways, the healthcare industry is lagging behind the digital revolution that has transformed other industries, but many administrators are betting that continued investments in technology and data will drive a reduction in costs and improvements in delivery.

Currently, data is king in healthcare.  From the collection of genetic information for analysis and insight into potential future risks, down to the plethora of information being collected through digital health apps that are helping consumers manage chronic illnesses and personal wellness.  However, in spite of the investments, healthcare administrators are still hard-pressed to point out tangible benefits.  In a PwC Health Research Institute survey, only 38% of provider executives stated that digital transformation is incorporated in their corporate strategic plans. Further, less than a quarter of healthcare companies employ a chief digital officer.  This is significantly less than in other industries. When asked about workforce strategies going into 2020, provider executives appeared to be responding to their internal lack of technology talent as 33% stated that they would be investing in digital skills and emerging technologies training for their workforce.

As is the case in most years, healthcare executives are navigating several major challenges that are occupying their time and attention.  In 2020, the healthcare industry will continue the shift toward value-based payments and the digitization of information that is woven into every aspect of healthcare delivery.  Physician vacancies will still be a major area of concern that will have to be dealt with through a comprehensive recruitment strategy and a focus on retention.  All of this and more seemingly contributes to another tumultuous year within the industry.

Staying out in front of these issues will be critical for healthcare administrators.  If your organization can benefit from partnering with an organization comprised of respected healthcare industry professionals, contact the Jackson Physician Search team today to learn how we can help keep you ahead of the curve.

 

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