The Rural Hospital Epidemic
The health and reputation of a hospital fall on the expertise and availability of doctors. Some large, renowned hospitals have a large pool of skilled doctors in almost every field. Unfortunately, rural areas aren’t so lucky. These hospitals are in spaces with small populations. These towns have few doctors born and raised in the area. Furthermore, hospitals have difficulty finding and keeping top talent. These doctors may have larger workloads due to shortages handling 12% of national hospitalizations. Hospitals, therefore, have to find ways to attract doctors, retain doctors, and operate in spite of physician shortages.
The importance of a strong workforce
Physician shortages continue to plague rural areas nationwide. Nearly 21% of Americans live in rural areas but are only served by 10% of physicians, leaving a significant gap in the patient-doctor ratio. Having a strong contingent of doctors will improve the level of service and patient satisfaction. Doctors affect metrics like LWBS and the length of stay. Rural hospitals also need to increase salaries to attract doctors. At the same time, the institutions are unable to generate revenues to pay doctors longterm. This is one of the many reasons why rural hospitals are closing at an alarming rate. So what can these rural hospitals do to address the challenge?
Technology can close the gap
With technology impacting the medical sphere, rural hospitals can now get access to doctors and other professionals in urban areas.
With telemedicine, rural areas can have patients checked by doctors using video. Telemedicine reduces the strain on doctors. These doctors can work fewer hours and take time off when needed. From a social and professional standpoint, rural doctors can connect with peers for guidance. Telemedicine addresses both staffing issues and encourages retention.
Allocate resources with remote case management
Technology can also help with case management. Each patient is a case that must be handled by a case manager. A staffing solution can provide remote case managers to handle patient cases. These case managers can then communicate with other personnel. Remote workers mean lower capital expenditure. The hospital can funnel resources to incentivize and retain physicians.
Supporting physicians with supplementary staff
Physicians in rural areas have a high turnover rate due to burnout. By bringing in staff to support doctors, some tasks can be delegated. Advanced practice providers or APPs, for example, are medical professionals with advanced education that can support doctors. These skilled workers can perform tasks like physical exams, X-rays, and even some minor procedures. Hospitalists are doctors that manage patient care while hospitalized. These specialists focus on patient satisfaction. Hospitalists take the stress off the hospital physicians and family physicians in rural areas. Both APPs and hospitalists can create a cohesive setting that helps doctors to work and stay in rural areas.
Focus on doctor retention
In any organization, the cost to recruit is higher than the cost to retain employees. Yet many rural hospitals fail to focus on doctor retention. Retention goes beyond a competitive pay package. The hospital should help doctors from other areas integrate with the rural area. Look for ways to help spouses and children adjust to school and social life. If possible, consider retention bonuses, training, and other incentives to maintain a longterm relationship. Everyone should get involved. Other professionals in key positions should join to help doctors feel welcomed and needed.
Investing in the future
A great way to deal with the challenge of physician recruitment is to look ahead. Are there any medical schools in the area? Can these schools work with the hospital to develop future doctors? By being proactive, there is a higher success of future recruitment.
Hospital success depends on recruitment
Closing the physician gap is critical for patients and the survival of rural hospitals. Attracting doctors to rural areas continue to be a challenge. From a social standpoint, many doctors prefer to be in urban spaces where there are more opportunities. However, there are social, financial, and career steps the hospital can take to attract and retain top talent. Technology continues to be a gamechanger with telemedicine and remote case management. Furthermore, building a complete workforce with APPs and hospitalists can improve recruitment. Seek advice from a staffing solution agency for strategies to address the physician workforce.