Building Resilience: A Deep Dive into Healthcare Workforce Innovation in 2024

Updated on February 20, 2024
Group of healthcare workers attending a meeting in the hospital.

This year healthcare leaders continue to juggle complex challenges ranging from workforce shortages and operational efficiency to managing financial constraints and balancing budgets. As healthcare leaders move away from the costly contract labor and outdated recruitment and retention methods from years prior, they can expect an increase in the use of technological tools and the impact of AI-powered technology in tackling the nation’s healthcare challenges throughout 2024.

In this article, we’ll explore the innovative trends that will shape the healthcare workforce throughout the year and discuss how technology will provide more control in cost-cutting and operational efficiency for healthcare leaders as they work to create more independence within their operating structures.

Addressing the Nursing Shortage

Despite a slight dip in demand for contract labor post-pandemic, the nursing workforce shortage remains a pressing and immediate challenge. Hospital leaders are confronting the aftermath of contract labor strategies, requiring them to navigate the complexities of significant budget corrections. The initial localized concern of a nursing shortage has evolved into a nationwide crisis, with projections indicating a potential deficit of up to 3.2 million workers by 2026. This underscores the urgency for healthcare leaders to adopt innovative recruitment and retention strategies with alternative labor models, which offer flexibility for workers and health systems without ballooning budgets.

Attracting New Talent to Healthcare and Adapting to Shifting Demographics

The age at which nurses enter the profession is shifting, with the median age dropping from 52 in 2020 to 46 in 2022. This shift is closely tied to the loss of over 200,000 experienced RNs post-pandemic. As nurses enter the workforce later in life and face burnout challenges, healthcare leaders must align recruitment and retention strategies with the changing preferences across generations. Meaningful work, clear expectations, career growth opportunities, and scheduling flexibility are critical factors in retaining this valuable talent pool. By offering a supportive environment, healthcare facilities can position themselves as appealing workplaces for the emerging nursing workforce.

Alternative Labor Models

New generations of nurses also seek scheduling flexibility that allows them to work when and where they want. Alternative labor models, such as on-demand staffing, are gaining traction as a solution for managing the healthcare workforce. In a survey of 130 healthcare executives across the United States, 98% said they were actively utilizing or exploring various alternative staffing models. On-demand labor platforms, supported by AI technology, help ensure healthcare organizations can address staffing gaps, manage peak demand, and strike a balance between workforce and patient needs.

Some of the nation’s largest health systems are shifting away from expensive travel nurse contract labor and are successfully implementing a blend of traditional schedules and on-demand labor. St. Louis-based SSM Health reported substantial savings of $85 million in FY2022 after embracing an on-demand model, showcasing the effectiveness of this approach in improving staff recruitment, retention, and patient care.

Embracing Technology

Throughout 2024, technology integration and partnerships will bring together AI-driven solutions to support facilities by enhancing various functions including recruitment, scheduling, streamlined onboarding, and retention strategies. These types of technology-based partnerships are quickly becoming indispensable tools for health systems, significantly improving workflow efficiency and optimizing costs.

By applying these technologies to the internal and external workforce, healthcare providers are able to reduce reliance on agencies even further. A typical system may have 15-20% of its workforce working fewer than 30 hours per week. By using Internal Resource Pool (IRP) software, staffing teams can use “intelligent routing” of work orders to have internal workers fill orders before external agencies receive them. These shifts are first offered to teams working fewer than 30 hours, then on-demand workers second and travel nurses third, creating three layers of savings for most systems.    

Additionally, AI-driven systems are poised to eliminate uncertainties in worker performance and engagement. This advancement allows healthcare institutions to take proactive measures in response to early indicators of burnout or disengagement. AI-powered platforms are capable of connecting healthcare providers with targeted training and upskilling opportunities, fostering a culture of continuous learning and professional development.

Virtual Nursing

Another type of alternative workforce model that utilizes technology includes virtual nursing, where patient care and services are delivered from a remote location, acting as a supplement to traditional bedside nursing and reducing the workload on in-person nurses. Health systems are benefiting from staffing cost control in utilizing virtual nursing across acute care, emergency department triage, home health/hospital-at-home services, mental health support, and chronic care management. Its versatility enables health systems to tap into valuable clinical expertise and gain access to a broader range of services.

In contrast to conventional telehealth services, virtual nursing represents a forward-thinking evolution in healthcare delivery. Some hospitals have successfully embraced a hybrid model, allowing nurses to seamlessly balance their responsibilities between traditional bedside care and remote virtual nursing duties. This not only helps alleviate the risk of physical burnout among nurses but also optimizes the capabilities of healthcare professionals familiar with the hospital environment.

Building a Resilient Healthcare System

As healthcare leaders adapt to the challenges of 2024, embracing innovation and technology is key to success. Healthcare leaders who adapt to the changing tide and the demand for technology-based systems are poised to create a more resilient, agile, and patient-centered healthcare environment. By addressing the evolving needs of the workforce, healthcare organizations can ensure the delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care remains at the heart of their mission.

Todd Walrath ShiftMed
Todd Walrath
Founder at ShiftMed

Todd Walrath is the founder of ShiftMed, and has served as the CEO and President since its inception. He has dedicated his career to creating technology solutions that streamline and improve the entirety of the healthcare system.