The healthcare industry is facing unprecedented shortages of medical professionals worldwide. In the US alone, more than 145,000 healthcare providers left their profession by the end of 2022. Experts warn that the situation will get worse if healthcare workers’ major concerns aren’t addressed.
According to McKinsey and Definitive Healthcare reports, one of the possible solutions for overcoming this crisis is to implement virtual hospitals and provide some or all healthcare services online. In this article, we’ll explore the main contributors to skilled medical staff shortages and how to address them with virtual patient care.
Why healthcare workers are leaving
The world population is ageing and isn’t becoming healthier, so the number of people who require medical attention regularly is higher than ever. Many healthcare providers had been already feeling the pressure of increasing demand for their services for a while, but after the recent health crisis, their burnout reached the breaking point.
Now, as the new wave of COVID is sweeping the US, medical workers are not ready to go through the influx of hospitalisations again. Additionally, a large portion of healthcare professionals are nearing retirement but are quitting earlier because they fear for their health. This leads to a situation where medical personnel in training don’t have enough skilled colleagues to consult with.
Naturally, the government, regulators, and healthcare organisations have to join forces to improve medical staff’s compensation and better motivate people to join the profession. However, some of the healthcare professionals' day-to-day challenges can be mitigated with technological advancements. For example, both clinicians and nurses admit that they would benefit from more flexibility in their schedule, an option to work remotely, and the ability to hold consultations with other knowledgeable specialists more often. Virtual hospitals can help achieve all that.
Four ways virtual hospitals improve clinicians’ job satisfaction
A virtual hospital is a comprehensive platform equipped with telemedicine capabilities, remote patient monitoring solutions, and a patient portal. It is integrated with electronic health record systems and other healthcare software.
Virtual hospitals function just like traditional hospitals, where medical specialists diagnose and treat patients, order tests, and prescribe treatments to patients, as well as refer them to other specialists. The only difference is that all of these activities are done online.
Less pressure on medical staff
Many health conditions can be monitored remotely by medical devices and managed by patients themselves with the help of a medical practitioner. Virtual hospitals are integrated with remote patient monitoring (RPM) solutions that receive patient data from specialised devices to further store, process, or display it. Thanks to such solutions, healthcare specialists can view changes to the patient's blood pressure, oxygenation, glucose levels, and temperature in real time and provide treatment recommendations remotely. This way, virtual hospitals significantly reduce the number of patients attending medical practitioners’ offices or get admitted for treatment.
Moreover, by using a virtual hospital’s digital communication tools like chat rooms, medical chatbots, or secure emergency video calls, patients can timely get valuable medical advice from healthcare professionals. Easy access to medical advice ensures that patients won’t exacerbate, which decreases the number of unplanned hospital visitors.
A decrease in urgent cases lets hospital personnel have a more balanced and predictable schedule. Overall reduction in hospital admissions and readmissions decreases doctors’ and nurses’ overall workload, so they get more time to rest and focus on the patients who require in-person care.
More job flexibility for doctors and nurses
Thanks to virtual hospitals, medical professionals can consult their patients and cooperate with their colleagues from anywhere. Having more time away from medical facilities benefits healthcare workers’ work-life balance and decreases the risk of burnout. This is confirmed by FlexJobs’ 2023 Work Insights Survey, which states that 96 per cent of surveyed professionals consider remote or hybrid work a much better option for their mental health. Since burnout is among the top reasons for medical staff shortages, alleviating it is crucial for overcoming the problem.
Enhanced intraprofessional collaboration
Healthcare specialists are also more willing to offer consultations and advice to their colleagues from distant medical facilities when they don’t have to travel. This way, virtual hospitals support the collaboration between experienced medical professionals, which leads to more precise diagnoses and better quality of care. Additionally, knowledge sharing between medical personnel helps new specialists acquire skills faster and close more gaps in healthcare.
Safer working conditions
Healthcare professionals who can be categorised as high risk for contracting COVID or influenza often quit out of fear for their health or the health of their family. However, remote communication with patients and colleagues is a much safer option and can be a great way to retain medical professionals whose mental and physical health is threatened by infectious diseases.
Another issue that medical providers face is abuse and harassment at the workplace, either from patients or from other staff members. In virtual hospitals, all audio, video, and written interactions between medical professionals and patients are recorded and can later be used to support a harassment claim This way, automatic interaction documentation safeguards remote healthcare workers against patients’ or colleagues’ inappropriate behaviour.
Now is the time when the healthcare industry should be transformed to supply the growing number of patients with quality care. Medical personnel need better working conditions, appropriate compensation, and recognition for their work, or else more and more patients will be denied medical help due to staff shortages.
Virtual hospitals modernise healthcare delivery while making it more comfortable for both doctors and patients. Naturally, this technology can’t fully solve the medical staffing problem, but it still plays a huge part in improving healthcare professionals’ job satisfaction. Doctors and nurses who can work remotely at a virtual hospital feel safer, are more motivated to cooperate with their peers, and can establish a proper work-life balance. Therefore, they are much more likely to stay in the profession and continue improving their skills, providing great patient care.
Mariia Kovalova, a Healthcare Technology Researcher at Itransition, a custom software development company headquartered in the US.