Will the Healthcare Industry Finally Embrace Digital Transformation?

Updated on February 24, 2023
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A recent study found that HR leaders in the healthcare industry are struggling to meet their goals and are suffering from widespread burnout. It’s not surprising, given the healthcare industry’s overwhelming challenges more broadly. Credentialed professionals are quitting in record numbers in the wake of the pandemic, and staffing leaders are struggling to place nurses, doctors, and administrators where they’re needed in a timely fashion. Challenges include:

  • The average travel nurse has a relationship with 3-7 healthcare staffing companies and must be re-credentialed for every new assignment at a facility. Licensing and credential verification across jurisdictions and geographies are arduous and complex.
  • Background checks and verifications are byzantine and can be rejected because of technicalities like misprinted dates or job titles. Because so many records exist in physical repositories that require manual retrieval, errors and inefficiencies are frequent.
  • The staffing industry broadly – and healthcare staffing in particular – could use a single “source of truth” of credentials for healthcare professionals to modernize the process of staffing, background checks and credential verification.

Before the pandemic, healthcare staffing hadn’t embraced the widespread adoption of automation when it came to staffing. The industry has been compelled to change rapidly since then, driven by the demand for staffing clinicians.

Credentialing and compliance for healthcare professionals have traditionally been much more demanding than typical background screenings in other industries. With hospitals and health facilities requiring a labyrinth of advanced screenings including license verifications, competency skill tests, state-specific forms and fingerprinting, drug screens and required occupational health screenings, the time to credential a professional for an assignment can take up to three weeks.

Many processes cannot be automated and require paper chasing, so when there is a delay in the process, the candidate, hospital, and the agency experience “pushed starts” translating into lower quality care for patients and exacerbating the stress placed on healthcare professionals. 

These manual processes need to scale to hundreds or thousands every year. Over the last several years, healthcare staffing agencies tried to keep up with staff demand by incorporating as many workers into their operations as needed to implement compliance processes. As long as staffing volume and bill rates were exploding, happy days were celebrated while the inconvenient truths of operational inefficiencies were cast aside.

Part of the challenge is structural; there simply aren’t enough qualified healthcare workers (nurses, doctors and administrative staff) to meet the exploding demand of the last few years. Many have left for early retirement or less stressful, better-paying positions in other industries. Even as Covid has abated somewhat, the pressure of long-delayed routine care and procedures has strained resources. The talent shortage has also pushed agencies to attract the most desirable candidates.

Growth cannot happen at the same pace forever, and as development has started to temper, there has been an increased priority on making operations more efficient while making the overall experience faster and more appealing to the talent.

Ultimately, the healthcare industry needs to undertake the same task that many other industries have embraced in the last decade: digital transformation. Healthcare has many administrative needs made more acute by bureaucracy and regulatory requirements. The benefits of digital transformation (automation of key processes) are many, with a few highlighted here:

Efficiency: Automating specific tasks can help healthcare staffing agencies save time and resources by reducing the need for manual labor. One of the most complex credentialing processes involves helping candidates schedule the necessary screenings with convenient travel to clinics to minimize candidate drop-offs. This can allow them to focus on more critical tasks such as finding qualified candidates and filling positions.

Accuracy: Automation can help reduce errors and improve the accuracy of tasks by linking multiple applicant tracking, clinician-facing duties and credential repository systems together such that information about candidates can be consistently passed between systems.

Scale: Automation can help ensure that tasks are completed consistently across hundreds and thousands of placements, extensions and replacements that happen every year in the fast-paced and constantly changing healthcare industry.

Cost savings: Automation can help reduce the cost of staffing by reducing the need for additional operations team members. This is particularly essential as macroeconomic headwinds underscore the need for efficiency and the ability to do more with less.

Improved patient care: Most importantly, automation can help bring healthcare professionals onboard faster and free up time and resources for healthcare staff to focus on providing better patient care.

Because of the significant role that healthcare plays in the economy, healthcare has a unique opportunity to leapfrog growing pains experienced by other industries undergoing digital transformation if the industry can break free of its inertia. Doing so will do an immeasurable service to patients, providers, and the hardworking, credentialed staff on whom patients rely. By embracing approaches like automation, intelligent uses of data, transparency, and consolidation across systems and functions, we can help bring healthcare staffing into a more efficient era.