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10 Ways to Decouple the Rise in Patient Volume from a Rise in Staff Exits This Winter

Respiratory season is ramping up once again, and it’s not just COVID-19 variants that urgent care (UC) clinics will tackle this year. The flu is back with a vengeance, and respiratory syncytial virus (R.S.V.) has been thrown into the mix early as well affecting the pediatric and senior population. Millions of Americans are expected to be impacted, and patient volume will be overwhelming.  UC leaders need to take action to ensure they can not only care for patients but better care for their staff as well. 

One of the key learnings over the last three years is that staff attrition rises when patient volume increases. It’s time to flip the script—leaders need to act before staff are overwhelmed, exhausted, sick, or underappreciated with a clinic full of patients and no end in sight. 

10 Ways to Avoid Staff Attrition During Respiratory Season 

There are various ways clinic operations can be improved for respiratory season. More patients can be seen in less time with better outcomes, profit margins can increase, and staff can be treated well, while they are also armed with the resources and tools they need to navigate the difficult season. 

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Here are tips and best practices that UC leaders can adopt to thwart staff attrition during times of intense stress and high volume in respiratory season:

Cultivate a culture of recognition, respect, candor, and safety. 

Workplace values must come from the top down for everyone to believe in and abide by them. When business goals and the actual experiences of frontline staff aren’t aligned, frustration and tension arise. Create an environment where staff feel they can come to you, voice their concerns and challenges, and discuss their ideas to make the clinic a place they want to be, even during times of high stress. A culture of recognition, respect, candor, and safety should always be a top priority. 

Create an easy-to-understand surge plan; communicate it to staff.

During the respiratory season, you might not know when a surge is coming, but you know one will come. Pull together an easy-to-understand, detailed surge plan that includes a staffing matrix and incentives for people to work unexpected shifts, such as an extra $3-5/hour bump. This helps keep hard-working people satisfied and willing to work more. Importantly, this surge plan needs to be distributed and walked through with staff so they know exactly what to expect. 

Cross-train your staff, and recognize their efforts. 

During busy seasons, there’s no greater move leaders can make than cross-training their staff. Everybody should be able to work the front desk, room a patient, and position patients for X-rays (within reason up to your state license requirements). Cross-training helps avoid getting into a position where you have to close a clinic because nobody is available to backfill a position and/or you have somebody working 14 days in a row because too many people are out. 

Incentivize staff for adding to their skill set. 

It’s important to also reward staff for learning new cross-training techniques, as nothing is more defeating than learning a new skill and adding value to the company but not being recognized for it. Consider taking it a step further by incentivizing staff. Say a receptionist is getting paid $16/hour, and they raise their hand to learn how to room and chart patients—add to their pay. To keep track of the gaps and associated pay with learning new skills, create a matrix for the team to follow along. 

Recognize all wins.

There is no small task in UC clinics, so celebrate all wins. Did someone quickly clean up a mess in the waiting room? Recognize that person—make it part of your everyday culture. This helps instill confidence within individuals; it finds something positive within each day, and it creates a culture that can resist tension.  

Promote great leadership, peer, patient, and online reviews.

Any easy way to celebrate wins and recognize staff is by highlighting great leadership, peer-to-peer, patient and online reviews. If there’s a positive review on Google or any other review sites, take a minute to promote it via email, Intranet, or by posting it somewhere for staff to see.  

Offer shift differential compensation for employees going above and beyond.

When appropriate, offer a shift differential to encourage workers during times that are a premium from their personal time.This works best for shifts that are fundamentally different from other shifts such as weekend or holiday shifts. Importantly, make sure staff know which shifts these are so that everyone has the same opportunities. 

Recognize the warning signs of stress and fatigue, and have a plan when you see them. 

Everyone, but especially leaders, should be watching for warning signs of high stress and fatigue. If you see a staffer disassociating and showing a lack of empathy or compassion for patients or peers, they may be experiencing cognitive issues caused by high stress. If not addressed quickly, what follows is staff attrition and then, worst case, an avalanche of exits. Take it seriously when people are asking for help or behaving differently, and have a staffing plan in place if someone needs a break. Remember that after surge season, staff may also need time to process their emotional and mental trauma; they should be provided with resources that allow them to deconstruct what they experienced such as access to a teletherapy app. 

Deploy telehealth solutions for the clinic.

Implement a telehealth solution for your clinic that allows patients to self-triage so staff can better load balance. Low-acuity patients who come into the UC clinic, for example, are oftentimes appropriate for telehealth visits. It’s also a great method for reducing exposure of viruses to other patients and staff. 

Offer real-time online booking to reduce front desk administrative stress.

Patients now have (and expect) the ability to book visits from their phones. Real-time online booking alerts front desk staff of impending volume and what to expect. In addition, garnering registration details and signed forms from patients online in advance helps alleviate stress on the patient and the front desk. It creates a better experience for all involved, while also minimizing potential data errors that could eventually impact billing or insurance. 

Whether UC clinics adopt one or all best practices, what’s key during times of high stress and intense workloads is empathy for your staff who may be feeling overwhelmed. Recognize how they’re navigating the difficult season, and take action to course correct when needed. Your staff will thank you for it – and stay with you – and the business will benefit from it.  

About the Author

April Gillam is Head of Industry Relations at Solv, a national network of healthcare providers making same-day and next-day healthcare accessible to anyone. She specializes in giving patients, healthcare workers, and peers a seat at the table, making them feel heard, validated, encouraged, educated, enriched, and served. 

Healthcare Business Today is a leading online publication that covers the business of healthcare. Our stories are written from those who are entrenched in this field and helping to shape the future of this industry. Healthcare Business Today offers readers access to fresh developments in health, medicine, science, and technology as well as the latest in patient news, with an emphasis on how these developments affect our lives.

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