Somebody Needs to Build the Uber of Healthcare Staffing

Updated on April 23, 2023

Ease of Use and Quality Will Determine the Winners

Occasionally, a company will come along that is so unique or innovative that their name becomes shorthand for the product or service they pioneered. Think of Kleenex as the common term for facial tissues, or Xerox as the shorthand for the act of making photocopies. 

In more recent years, no company has been subject to as much name appropriation as Uber. Having pioneered an entirely new industry in the service of building their business, “Uber” has now become shorthand for any kind of rideshare. A person is just as likely to say they’ll “take an Uber” when they’re actually going to use Lyft or another service.

Beyond that, Uber has also become a shorthand analogue in the tech and investment worlds for any disruptive technology that connects a buyer with a seller and creates an entirely novel business proposition in the process. Airbnb is the “Uber of subletting.” Grubhub and Doordash were surely pitched as the “Uber of restaurant delivery,” (although Uber actually does restaurant delivery now).

A number of disparate circumstances had to align for Uber to become Uber. Increasing urbanization, especially in markets like San Francisco (where Uber first launched), coincided with universal GPS access and smartphone penetration. Uber likewise had to overcome regulatory hurdles and build network effects before it could become a household name. In doing so, Uber singlehandedly ushered in the phenomenon we now refer to as the gig economy.

Now, in the wake of the pandemic, the U.S. needs an “Uber for healthcare staffing.” The pandemic exposed numerous weaknesses in the American healthcare system, especially the problem of staff burnout and shortages. Traveling nurses and enhanced government spending helped temporarily plug some of the holes, but as the pandemic wanes and ordinary backlogs in the healthcare industry come to the surface, it has become clear that technology will need to help shore up the system and find efficiencies wherever available.

Consider the potential benefits:

  • Shortage of healthcare workers: An Uber-style platform could help connect healthcare facilities with qualified healthcare professionals quickly and efficiently, mitigating the staffing shortage. Ease of use and flexibility could also attract more candidates to the profession.
  • Flexible staffing solutions: Healthcare facilities often have varying needs for staff, such as temporary or part-time staff. This is especially true in the wake of the pandemic, which saw expensive troupes of traveling nurses enlisted to plug holes in an overburdened regional healthcare system. An Uber-style platform could provide flexible staffing solutions that can adapt to the changing needs of healthcare facilities.
  • Efficient matching: Traditional staffing agencies can take a long time to match healthcare facilities with suitable staff, leading to increased costs, delays and shortages. An Uber-style platform could use technology to match healthcare facilities with qualified staff quickly and efficiently, while offering an improved user experience for both applicants and recruiters.

As it currently stands, healthcare staffing agencies rely on legacy systems, personal relationships and analog network effects in order to connect candidates with understaffed facilities. While some of these connections will necessarily endure, only technology can automate time-consuming processes like background checks and credential verification at the scale that’s needed to keep the industry afloat.

Several platform companies in healthcare staffing have emerged vying to become the “Uber for healthcare staffing”, and even some agencies are getting into the platform business as they see the writing on the wall of competitiveness over the next several years. The question will be whether such talent marketplaces can scale in an industry that is more complicated than hiring drivers? Will the human touch still be necessary to deal with highly-skilled professionals demanding personal attention?

Whatever the outcome, ease of use and a positive clinician experience will be necessary features of a next-generation healthcare staffing system. In order to meet the needs of a national post-pandemic medical network, a technology overhaul and innovative new solutions are overdue. The companies that harness emerging technologies and incorporate the design features that make them appealing for user uptake will play an outsized role in building a thriving healthcare system for the future.