Webinar recap: Using technology to combat staff shortages

staff shortages

Cliniconex hosted a recent webinar, Using Tools and Technology to Combat Staff Shortages, to look at the staffing crisis in health care and how embracing the right technological tools and innovation can turn things around. The panelists included Kimberly McMillian, Assistant Professor of Nursing, University of Ottawa, Robert Crowe, Founder and CEO of Matchwell and Danielle Sinden, Director of the Centre of Expertise and Research Operations of the Perley Health. 

The staffing crisis

The healthcare industry, and more specifically the senior care segment, is facing dire staffing shortages. Compounded by the need to adhere to regulatory standards and professional guidelines, healthcare systems are understaffed, overtaxed, and frankly speaking, on the verge of burning out. Some alarming statistics include:

  • nursing homes are facing 100%  staff turnover,
  • 89% facing severe or moderate staff shortages,
  • 58% had to limit new admissions. 

On the positive side, the pandemic is being credited as a catalyst for technology adoption and spending, as well as healthcare innovation. For example, 87% of nursing homes increased their technology budget in 2021. 

Lack of scheduling flexibility and technology issues add to crisis

Kimberly McMillan, Assistant Professor of Nursing, University of Ottawa, says that although enrollment in nursing programs is up by 4% in the United States and 20% in Canada, and more than 90% receive job offers when they graduate, 30% will leave their new jobs within two years. 

Organizations are more focused on recruitment and clinical outcomes than retention, she says. This at a time when The American Nurses Association (ANA), says more jobs will be available for nurses than any other profession in the United States with more than 275,000 additional nurses needed from 2020 to 2030. 

Lack of flexibility in scheduling and technology (or lack of it) that add to the administrative burden are major contributors to the high turnover, she says. 

These ‘digital babies’ adapt to new technology quickly; they want flexibility in scheduling their work. They want the technology to work for them, be intuitive and save time and if they are not happy, they “leave and leave quickly.”

“They are not interested in the traditional four 12-hour shifts, followed by three days off,” McMillan says.

Robert Crowe, founder and CEO of Matchwell, agrees, saying that to be competitive, health care providers need to provide flexible schedules. Matchwellprovides a solution through a marketplace platform that empowers healthcare organizations to directly access flexible W-2 healthcare professionals who, for one reason or another, aren’t looking for traditional full-time work.

Scheduling has come a long way, he says, but there’s still little uptake, with the administrative burden placed on one person who already has many other responsibilities. Training and constant retraining are key, he says, to maximize the benefit of the investment.

Technology is only a tool

Danielle Sinden, Director of the Centre of Expertise and Research Operations of the Perley Health, an Ottawa-based organization that provides care for 200 seniors, says technology is only a tool; the trick is to get people to embrace it.

A large part of her role is to develop and test technology and share the findings with her community.  She points out that in Canada funding within public institutions drives buying solutions so the technology you get may be less than what you actually need.

The key, she says, is to get nursing staff to test the technology to ensure it works for them which will save money and time in the long run. It’s equally imperative to consider the technical savvy of those new to the profession and those that have decades of experience and knowledge to share. And training can’t just happen at initial adoption; it needs to be done continuously. 

Sinden also cites the need for mentorship and says this is where technology can play a key role. Mentors do not have to be those working on the floor with new nurses; rather use technology to develop online forums for discussions and engage with retired practitioners so they can contribute their decades of knowledge and expertise.  

Crowe adds that companies want to be known as innovators and with the rise of telehealth and remote monitoring, there’s a real risk that organizations that don’t innovate will be left behind. 

He recommends trial and error because failure is a learning opportunity, to talk to peers and industry peers about what worked and didn’t work, and look at solving one or two problems at a time. 

A company that claims it can solve all your problems is a company that does nothing well, he says. 

Technology: fostering person-centered care.

Investing in new technology is a lengthy process and requires a lot of research and buy-in from various stakeholders. The bottom line? Any technology should help in providing cost-effective care. When evaluating your options, look for solutions that:

  • Enable staff
  • Accomplish tasks more accurately and efficiently without having to increase staff resources or effort
  • Are easy to implement and intuitive to use
  • Benefit many levels of staff
  • Solve one problem but don’t’ create another

At the end of the day, any technology you implement should increase staff recruitment, retention and overall satisfaction. 


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