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The future of the health care workforce: Virtual care, borderless recruiting and remote working

Gabriel Perna | March 3, 2021

In a multi-part series, Health Evolution is examining the future of the health care workforce. As we approach the one-year mark of when the pandemic begun disrupting lives across America, how has the virus changed the mindset of CEOs and organizational leaders in terms of how they view their employees and the skills they need to cultivate? For part one, we’re exploring potential shifts impacted by the rise of remote work, borderless recruiting, and virtual care.  

It was almost one year ago that approximately 6,000 employees at Indianapolis-based IU Health—or 17 percent of the organization—were instantly forced to work remotely due to the pandemic.   

While these kinds of changes were happening across the country, it represented a remarkable shift in the health care industry. Before COVID, health care leaders had been slow to move employees outside the walls of a hospital, clinic, or administrative building. According to research from Deloitte, only 9 percent of health care employees said their employer was introducing new ways of working prior to COVID.  

Now? That number has ballooned to 78 percent.  

Jen Radin, chief innovation officer for Deloitte’s Health Care practice, says that some organizations struggled with this overnight change. “There was a whole set of actions and questions that it triggered. How do we think about productivity? How to be connected to each other? Do we need to stay connected to each other? How do we help with bandwidth where people may or may not have it? How do we help people manage their personal and professional obligations? This was true across many industries but because of health care’s 24/7 nature, it was a little different,” Radin says.  

On top of keeping frontline workers safe and the community at large healthy from the burgeoning virus threat, IU Health had to undergo a massive overhaul of its operations overnight. One of the biggest challenges was helping the organization feel like it was connected. CEO Dennis Murphy sent out video communications on a weekly cadence for the first six months to ensure people felt connected.  

“The nature of people who are attracted to health care is they like to be around people and suddenly there was a whole segment of our workforce that we needed to move to all virtual,” says Tanya Hahn, vice president of human resources at IU Health. “We had to get people comfortable turning their cameras onso you feel like you’re getting that personal touch and engagement. For leaders in our organization, it was new, and it was important for us to figure out how to check in personally with our team members in a way that we didn’t when we saw them in the office.”  

The ability to manage employees remotely has become one of the challenges health care leaders have had to master in the pandemic. There’s also the matter of recruiting, retaining and upskilling workers to adapt to this new digital environment, amid an already-dire shortage across most clinical areas. One year later, health care leaders have a greater sense of the skills that will be needed to cultivate in employees going forward, including the need to thrive in a virtual environment.  

A new skill set needed  

Futuro Health was established with a $130 million investment from Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West to increase the number of health care jobs in California. The state projects a demand for 500,000 more workers across clinical, administrative and support positions by 2024. Thanks to the disruptions from COVID, the skills for which health care organizations will need to leverage those potential workers has changed dramatically, says Futuro Health’s CEO Van Ton-Quinlivan.  

Futuro Health CEO Van Ton-Quinlivan

“You’re going to need individuals with a more complicated set of skills. Data conversant. Technology conversant. Clinical conversant. That talent pool isn’t going to exist on its own,” says Ton-Quinlivan. “Having intentionality in developing that talent pool will be important and should be a collaborative process.” 

She says the virtualized environment—whether it’s clinical care via telehealth or remote work for other employees—is here to stay and health care organizations will have to adjust. Survey data backs up these assertions. More people are interested in remote work—more than half of employees surveyed by PwC indicated they want to work remotely going forward at least three days per week. More people are interested in telehealth and virtual care—76 percent of consumers, according to a survey from McKinsey. 

Some organizations are equipped for this transition. Because its clinical network was already operating in a virtual world, diabetes and chronic condition management company Cecelia Health adapted perhaps more naturally to virtualizing its workforce than traditional brick-and-mortar operations, including its New York City headquarters. 

“Does that mean we’ll fully abandon face to face? No. We miss out on some things without face to face,” says Mark Clermont, who took the helm as CEO last month when founder David Weingard assumed the role of Executive Chairman. “But I am intrigued by the models put forth by other companies such as Salesforce and Wolters Kluwer.”  Weingard added that it could be challenging to continue operating sales teams in fully remote environments. 

For providers in particular, recruiting was more local to where the organization was. Now that we’re in hybrid models and in some cases some jobs can remain remote for a long time, recruiting has expanded.

Jen Radin, Chief innovation officer for Deloitte's Health Care practice

Of course, it won’t be easy for any health care organization. A separate McKinsey report suggests that health care is one of the industries with the least amount of potential remote work. As evidenced by the 83 percent of employees at IU Health that didn’t work remotely, a good deal of positions just can’t be done at home. Even with physicians who can conduct telehealth visits, many still require advanced equipment that has to be housed in offices.  

Furthermore, some organizations, such as rural health providers or federally qualified health centers, may not have the resources and capabilities to support virtual care. Futuro Health created a 15-week course with the University of Delaware to develop advanced telehealth coordinators who can work with these types of organizations. Finding employees who can blend clinical and technical knowledge will become critical, Ton-Quinlivan predicts. Furthermore, she says health care organizations will have to create workforce development programs that develop these skills.  

“I think there’s a scenario where facilities may shrink, which means mobile care and mobile care providers will become more important. You may need someone with a fairly complicated skillset where you have someone who is doing the regular provision of care, but also can be tech support. Like the Best Buy Geek Squad,” Ton-Quinlivan says. “And then there’s a cultural element of being in someone’s home…it’s a different kind of workforce and a different kind of person.”  

Borderless recruiting?  

Radin agrees with the notion that payers, providers, and life science organizations are both going to need to recruit employees who are tech savvy and adaptable. This will especially be the case, she says, as AI, machine learning, virtual reality, and more advanced disruptions make their way into the picture.  

But beyond comfort with advanced tech, organizations need to find people who can work across teams in remote environments. The biggest challenge for virtual work in health care, according to the Deloitte survey, is the ability to connect with colleagues and build camaraderie.   

“This notion of being able to work across teams across the U.S., across the world. And what does that mean to be able to walk across cultures, across time zones and to work with people that you’ve maybe never met before? The connectivity is as important as the domain expertise,” she says.  

This brings forth another challenge in the new virtual environment for health care executives—how to recruit workers with these skills. In this regard, Radin is confident in her prediction that recruiting in health care is becoming borderless.  

For providers in particular, recruiting was more local to where the organization was. Now that we’re in hybrid models and in some cases some jobs can remain remote for a long time, recruiting has expanded. You can reach across the U.S. and even outside the U.S. That’s one trend that will continue to expand,” Radin says.  

Ton-Quinlivan says the trend was already underway with Amazon, Google, Microsoft and other big tech companies entering the health care landscape. She says when those kinds of companies are aiming to disrupt an industry, the traditional players must be willing to look outside the traditional talent pool.  

Yet some providers don’t have a choice. Like many health care provider organizations, IU Health is facing a shortage of workers across a number of critical clinical areas, most notably in nursing. While Hahn says the organization has recruited some positions outside its geographic area, it’s not likely to take a more global approach in hiring for roles where people are less willing to relocate or unable to work remotely. But she says organizations are going to have to lean into digital recruitment marketing and new technologies to cater to changing employee desires.  

“The way we recruited for health care five or 10 years ago has changed significantly given what candidates expect in this market. They expect to go through the hiring process faster. Making sure we’re delivering on that need is important, while making sure we don’t sacrifice on our ability to find a right fit for the organization,” says Hahn.  

   

Part two of this series will explore the rising importance of community health workers and the skill of empathy. 

Tom Sullivan contributed to the reporting of this story.  

About the Author

Gabriel Perna, Senior Manager, Digital Content

Gabriel Perna is the Senior Manager of Digital Content at Health Evolution. He brings 10+ years of experience in covering the intersection of health care and business. Previously, he was at Chief Executive, Physicians Practice and Healthcare Informatics. You can reach him via email or on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna