HR Challenges in the Healthcare Industry

A list of industry-specific challenges and tips on how to tackle them in 2021

by Aimie Ye

The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have manifested differently depending on the industry. For some industries, the virus did not make a significant impact on finances, hiring, and operations, while for others, the impact was devastating. A recent survey indicates that the pandemic has significantly affected the healthcare industry, from an increase of job losses to employee burnout. Healthcare HR professionals are feeling the burden of the pandemic weighing on their shoulders, with a wide range of staffing, human resource management, and growth concerns looming ahead. With the pandemic exacerbating existing healthcare HR pain points, we’ve compiled a list of key challenges and tips on how to tackle them in 2021. 

Key HR Challenges in the Healthcare Industry

1. Staffing in Healthcare

Though the healthcare industry is expected to add 3.8 million new jobs by the year 2024, the talent pool is shrinking. As the need for additional healthcare professionals increases, HR professionals and businesses are having trouble filling roles with qualified applicants. In fact, by 2025, the USA could be dealing with a physician shortage between 61,700 and 94,700. With the shrinking talent pool and increasing age demographic, healthcare HR professionals must learn to cope with staff shortages, added pressure to recruit, as well as validation of medical certifications, licensure, ongoing training progress, recertification, and even reinstatement.

2. Patient and Worker Safety

With healthcare jobs being among the most risky in the nation, safety is a top concern for HR professionals. Proper safety measures impact both worker safety and patient safety. With over 600,000 healthcare workers that are injured each year, HR managers are tasked with properly regulating and training new hires on OSHA and other worker safety procedures in efforts to minimize injuries on the job. In addition to injuries, the COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious risk of infecting staff throughout the pandemic. 

Alisa Fedders, Sr. HR Consultant for a healthcare franchise at Strategic HR Inc., states, “The majority of staff has to be working in the clinics — remote work often isn’t an option for most of our roles, so our focus has been making a safe environment for both the employees and the patients. The most difficult thing has been navigating all of our protocols and procedures and making sure that we’re following guidelines on contact tracing.”

On the flip side, HR pros must also take extra precautions with background check screenings to avoid problems and potential liabilities that may present themselves as workers come in contact with patients. 

3. Digitization 

The healthcare industry continues to transform over the years, with digitization being a key focus. As an HR professional in the healthcare business, keeping yourself and your team up to date on emerging technologies requires a flexible and risk-taking mindset, as well as a streamlined training process. Digital upgrades in healthcare can mean anything from new telemedicine processes to electronic health record systems that oftentimes have a steep learning curve. HR managers must be well versed on assessments, training, and forecasting around new technology. 

Eropa Stein, Founder & CEO at Hyre, emphasizes, “Long-term care homes are not traditionally tech-savvy, but in the age of COVID-19, they NEED to onboard managers onto digitized HR processes. Scheduling, hiring, and rescheduling frontline workers is a hassle, especially when you throw in contact tracing and safety procedures.”

Bob Clarke, CEO of Furst Group, NuBrick Partners and Salveson Stetson Group, says, “Screening and interviewing in person throughout the hiring process has changed dramatically since the pandemic… But in a virtual hiring environment the organization needs to be able to communicate effectively even when all participants are in separate spaces.”

4. Turnover Rate & Retention

According to the 2020 National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report, the national hospital staff turnover rate was 17.8%, and the average hospital has turned over 89% of its workforce in the past 5 years. Because of this, an ongoing HR challenge is decreasing turnover rates and improving employee retention and happiness within organizations. Along these lines, HR managers are also reevaluating organizational culture in efforts to retain workers.

5. Employee Burnout & Dissatisfaction

Burnout in healthcare has reached rampant levels in the United States, especially with the direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare workers, and the staff shortage and turnover crises stated above. A study on healthcare professionals in the US found that more than 50% of physicians and 33% of nurses experience symptoms of burnout, including feelings of exhaustion and cynicism related to long-term job stresses. Job satisfaction is imperative to a productive workforce, so HR managers are expected to help manage, prevent, and reduce employee burnout within their organizations. This could include anything from implementing stronger mental health related policies in the workplace, to improving PTO regulations. 

Clarke adds, “In some ways the focus on delivering care is masking the toll taken on an individual as they struggle with fear, uncertainty, illness and even death. HR professionals need to ‘keep the trains running’ in terms of staffing and hiring, and they need to address the personal toll that this pandemic is taking on their team.”

6. Privacy

With the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in place to prevent fraud and theft of protected health information (PHI), HR managers must be hyper-aware of compliance regulations around healthcare providers, plans, and clearinghouses. Due to large amounts of valuable digital data and insufficient cybersecurity, data breaches in healthcare are on the rise. In addition, data privacy and security will continue to fall on the shoulders of HR, so making sure staff is trained well is imperative. The growing shift to work from home through the pandemic further emphasizes the need for proper remote employee plans that HR must put into place.

7. Investment in Talent Management

Staying on top of hospital and business costs also spills into HR territory, so HR managers must strike a balance between offering competitive salaries and attractive benefits to potential employees, while also ensuring the company remains profitable. Without investing in talent management, HR can end up in a sticky situation.

8. Wage Competition

As the market for top talent grows tighter and tighter, wages are on the rise. HR managers are in charge of creating the most attractive package for future employees in order to stay competitive with other businesses in the market. In addition to salary, work-life balance, benefits packages, and company culture must be used to attract talent as well. HR professionals must find a way to tie in flexible scheduling, PTO offers, and other options to compete for the best team members.

9. Training & Development 

HR professionals in the healthcare industry have a unique set of training responsibilities. In addition to standard staff training requirements, programs, and career development plans typically handled by HR, they are also tasked with medical credentialing, compliance training, and other mixed training of employees. Having a streamlined process for managing the various types of training is crucial.

10. Regulations & Records Compliance

Last but certainly not least, healthcare HR pros are constantly keeping up with new reporting requirements per the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and are required to report to the IRS to stay compliant. Complying with employee record requirements can be confusing given the numerous regulations. Federal agencies create their own record-keeping requirements, but individual local regulations must also be addressed by HR.

The Rise of Home Health Care

The healthcare industry consists of a wide range of businesses, including medical services, equipment manufacturers, insurance, and facilities. Among these businesses, home health care(homecare) businesses continue to grow at a remarkable rate, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing many patients from going to physical treatment locations for care. Homecare is projected to surpass all other care categories due to an aging population, an increase in chronic illnesses, and the mindset shift that puts patient homes as the ideal care setting.

Specific to homecare, HR professionals are faced with the issue of hiring enough qualified caregivers, and keeping them on board after hiring (recruiting and retention). Compliance is also in the spotlight for HR managers in the homecare sphere, specifically the Fair Labor Standards Act around the wage and hour rule. Due to varying laws and regulations around work hours and medical leave, HR must stay ahead on compliance. Additionally, they are faced with a unique challenge of making sure employees do not pose a liability when working at client homes. Adding personal touchpoints and creating a relationship with caregivers can help boost morale and improve skills. 

Overcoming Healthcare HR Challenges

Though the list of challenges that healthcare HR professionals face may look daunting, HR professionals are hopeful in overcoming these challenges. 

Fedders of Strategic HR Inc. emphasizes transparency and communication with employees: “Let them know what’s happening in the company so they feel like they have an understanding of the situation, or help them get more information on how to be vaccinated.” 

Clarke adds, “HR leaders must become facile, skilled and courageous at addressing and supporting employees who are struggling emotionally. It’s imperative that they listen, acknowledge, validate, and most importantly remember that empathy is a very powerful tool in the leader’s arsenal during these dynamic times.” He also emphasizes the importance of staying connected with your workforce through the use of video conferencing software. Using these platforms helps create social time with organizational leaders as well as the entire team. 

HR Software for Healthcare Businesses

Many HR pain points can be solved or reduced with a modern HR software system. Modern HRIS systems like GoCo can help streamline and modernize HR processes so you can focus on tackling higher-value concerns, like retention and engagement.

  • Streamline your onboarding process. With a consolidated HR platform, you can streamline workflows easily so that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare employees start off on the right foot. Digitally send offer letters, collect e-signatures, and automate onboarding tasks for an organized start. You also get bonus points for using HR software to keep up with increasing digitization within healthcare organizations!
  • Ensure hiring compliance. Employee management systems like GoCo also make hiring compliance processes incredibly easy, even in the healthcare industry. HR pros are able to collect all compliance and licensing documentation before a new hire starts. All documents are securely stored and filed to protect patient and employee health records, and avoid data breaches.
  • Empower your employees with modern software. While automating your manual tasks is a definite positive, adopting HR software also is proven to help keep employees engaged. Interactive HRIS platforms keep your employees in the loop by providing self-service benefits enrollment options, pay stub information, and employment data at-a-glance.
  • Get help from on-demand HR experts. HR software like GoCo comes with access to a personalized support center, where you can get on-demand HR advice, compliance resources, and tools to support your valuable employees through the pandemic and beyond. 
  • Standardize your document management process. Staying compliant with industry regulations also means organizing and managing important employee documents, licenses, training plans, and more. An HRIS can help change the way you manage and track documents with custom features for inserting and collecting form fields to report on. You can also easily send out new regulation forms for acknowledgement, and keep track of outstanding forms.

HR professionals in every industry will face a variety of unique challenges, especially through the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. For those in the healthcare industry, employee and patient risks, as well as compliance should be top of mind in planning processes. If you’re currently struggling with any of the HR challenges mentioned above, a completely digital HR software like GoCo could be a great option for you — but don’t just take our word for it. Take a free interactive tour today to see how we can tackle your healthcare industry challenges!

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