The COVID pandemic tested our nation and our world. Companies pivoted. Many thrived. A common denominator of success was the ability to advance digital experiences for employees and customers. Post-pandemic, leading companies continue to advance digital customer experiences and digital employee experiences to drive better productivity, better performance, and higher levels of customer and employee satisfaction.

This improvement hasn’t followed into the experiences of healthcare providers and patients. During the pandemic, healthcare workers were on the frontline, placing their patients’ needs and safety ahead of their own. This experience has had a lasting impact on the healthcare industry. Today, we face acute nursing and physician shortages, and many hospitals and healthcare systems continue operating underwater or with constrained budgets.

Post-pandemic, leading companies continue to advance digital customer experiences and digital employee experiences to improve productivity, performance, and customer and employee satisfaction.

The demand for healthcare services is increasing, and the clinician shortage makes system recovery harder. The Association of American Medical Colleges revealed the U.S. could face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034 despite the growing demand for healthcare.

What can hospitals and health system providers do to upend the trend? First, they need to understand the “Why” behind the problem—then they must adopt an agile strategic mindset for solving the problem.

Understanding Why Clinician Shortages Exist

Clinicians are burned out after the pandemic. The relentless care obligations during the pandemic took their toll. The American Hospital Association identifies burnout as a critical threat to our healthcare system as “the incredible physical and emotional toll that hospital workers have endured in caring for patients during the pandemic has, among other issues, exacerbated the shortage.” But the issue goes even deeper than that: the U.S. Surgeon General called it out as a lack of healthcare workers feeling valued or recognized by their organizations. Considering this sentiment, it’s easy to see how healthcare workers feel overworked and undervalued.

As a result of the pandemic experience and perceived lack of appreciation, many hospitals are losing up to 20% of their clinical workforce. In a world that desperately needs more healthcare workers, we’re seeing a continued wave of clinicians leaving the patient care environment and a shortage of new, trained clinicians to backfill the vacancies.

The current state of the healthcare workforce highlights the paradox that to provide patients with better experiences, organizations must first prioritize the experiences of their doctors, nurses, and teams.

Patients are experiencing the impact of this dangerous trend. According to data released by the CVS Health-Harris Poll National Health Project, 80% of Americans expressed concern about the healthcare workforce shortages, with over half of respondents directly impacted by the shortages. This current state highlights the paradox that to provide patients with better experiences, organizations must first prioritize the experiences of their doctors, nurses, and teams.

The pandemic didn’t cause these issues — it simply exposed healthcare employee experience gaps and the vulnerable, close ties between provider experience and patient experience. Creating better provider experiences doesn’t just stabilize a critical workforce; it also improves the patient’s experience.

Here are three ways hospitals and health systems can take proactive action to drive better employee experiences and bolster patient experiences.

Reset Your Strategic “Why”

Before taking any definitive action or adopting new technologies, hospitals and health systems must step back and rediscover why they exist in the post-pandemic world. This reset effort is imperative to craft a path forward for your organization to retain clinicians and expand the number of patients choosing your facility and team for care.

The first steps on this path involve having key stakeholders and teams invest time into resetting and realigning the organization’s purpose. This initiative should include taking an honest look at the current state of the organization, identifying the organization’s north star, and specifying strengths to lean into and opportunities for growth.

Given the current burnout rate, now is the time to embrace a people-led strategy so that provider and patient experiences remain tied to the organization’s purpose. One aspect to consider is aligning the organization to KPIs that better account for employee satisfaction and provide a framework for monitoring burnout. Ultimately, investing in strategy first will help ensure greater alignment across people, processes and technology while providing a roadmap for execution.

Rebuild Trust

Once you have the right strategy in place, it’s time to give your providers and patients a voice. As you start, remember that providers’ sense of being undervalued is the result of a critical empathy gap. In this situation, creating a feedback loop — likely multiple layers of feedback loops — is essential. Providers must have the opportunity to speak up and be heard in earnest.

Recognize that giving a consistent voice to your healthcare team and patients is only the beginning. What your organization does with this feedback makes or breaks the process. There’s a general tendency to focus only on negative feedback. While addressing recurring friction points is important, provider feedback can also help you identify and understand trends that can inform future business decisions. Remember to look for positive feedback and celebrate the small wins. Sharing wins across the organization can help healthcare workers feel more connected to their work and help them see the value of their efforts.

Reassess Your Technology

Your strategy is in place. You’re listening to your healthcare workers and patients. Now it’s time to look at the technology supporting your efforts. Most healthcare organizations use legacy tools that build up over time, leading to mounting inefficiencies as a result of overlapping functionality and increased strain on the budgets used to manage these technology investments. This increases the risk of misalignment with user expectations as the healthcare landscape evolves into one where users have a greater affinity for digital engagement (e.g., making appointments online vs calling).

First, consider the value of your current technology when considering your new strategy goals. Your current investment is likely underutilized. When you find the value of a specific technology isn’t understood or recognized, frame it as an opportunity to consolidate your efforts for better value.

To get insights into the UX of data for your organization, engage providers in the transformation process and solicit their feedback on what works well and what doesn’t.

To take full advantage of existing and new technologies, you must have your data in order. Prioritize efforts to clean and centralize data while considering the User Experience (UX) of data. How is data served to its end users? As you think about the UX of data, you’ll want to know:

  • Is the data presented in real-time and in a format that’s easy for providers to glean insights from within their regular workflow? If not, you’ll likely see deepening inefficiency and a heavier burden placed on providers, which can lead to dissatisfaction. Ultimately, users are less likely to adopt new practices if the data isn’t easily accessible and usable, resulting in your technology operating as a cost center. To get insights into the UX of data for your organization, use this opportunity to engage providers in the process and solicit their feedback on what works well and what doesn’t.

You also need to examine your technology through the lens of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Healthcare organizations and workers are keen to see how they can incorporate AI into their work. Considering the extent of burnout, it would be valuable to explore utilizing AI to minimize the administrative burden and data overload that providers routinely encounter in serving their end users, the patients. For example, providers might use Artificial Intelligence to automate manual tasks that don’t require human eyes. New tools will free up time for providers and give them more face time with patients, which ultimately leads to a more positive patient experience.

To reduce the risk of burnout, consider using AI to minimize the administrative burden and data overload that providers routinely encounter in serving their patients.

Another area to explore is how AI might work within the clinical workflow. Some providers have shown interest in leveraging AI for data consumption, surfacing insights in a fraction of the time and reducing the risk of human error (e.g., missing an important data point due to the sheer volume of data required). Leveraging Artificial Intelligence in this manner would be a significant undertaking and would require upfront training of the AI model. In addition, this type of application raises questions about the role of AI and how legal and regulatory frameworks for this industry will need to adapt to address it. Healthcare organizations must stay on top of this evolving landscape to ensure compliance.

The Path Forward to Clinician Experiences that Drive Better Patient Experiences

Healthcare shortages will remain a significant national crisis in 2024 and beyond. Hospitals and health systems that keep their healthcare workers and clinicians at the heart of their strategy will buck this trend. Listen to these important voices, recognize their value, and collaborate on a roadmap moving forward that informs a strategy centered on understanding. Make it a priority to understand the value of your technology and be willing to part ways with legacy tools that continue to operate as a cost center. Make your data work to your advantage and keep a keen eye on ways Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help you advance your employee and patient experience improvement agenda.

At the end of the day, everything comes back to quality experiences. Our healthcare workers made their mark by enduring traumatizing experiences during the pandemic and putting their needs and safety aside to care for us. Now is the time to prioritize their experiences and recognize their value! Hospitals and health systems that do this will deliver better care and drive better experiences for employees and patients.

Are you ready to take your healthcare provider experience to the next level? Are you ready to use it to create better care experiences for your patients? Together, BlastX Consulting can help your hospital or healthcare system build better experiences that create sustained value and impact. It all starts with a conversation. Let’s talk on LinkedIn.