The healthcare landscape is an increasingly difficult one for leaders to navigate. Much like other industries vital to the U.S. economy, healthcare has experienced a number of disruptions. Furthermore, it seems to evolve more each day. For example, technology advances have made possible new modes of care delivery, but have also complicated some patient relations as best practices remain uncommunicated.
Likewise, age-old problems to healthcare providers like revenue cycle management and talent acquisition routinely present leaders with pressing challenges. Wrap all these up in the fact the healthcare industry will continue to deal with uncertainty regarding reform and increasing oversight, and it’s clear leaders face pressures on all front of healthcare operations.
However, the first step to addressing these problems head-on is understanding them and the conditions that lead to them. Solutions are not impossible, but healthcare leaders need to take an honest appraisal of these complications and their potential effects on their settings. The difficulties of running a healthcare business amid a choppy sea of change is a hard task, but leaders who improve their knowledge base, possibly through completing an online advanced degree like The George Washington University’s Master of Business Administration, may be able to formulate comprehensive responses to these numerous challenges.
ACA Repeal, Continued Reform
The biggest risks healthcare leaders face are those posed by the ongoing debate over healthcare reform, specifically the Affordable Care Act and its future. Healthcare leaders have spent the last seven years orienting their operations and models to deal with the effects of expanded coverage for millions of Americans and other ACA mandates. A 2016 survey from Modern Healthcare found 67.4 percent of CEOs opposed the repeal-and-replace effort; just 2.3 percent supported it.
Still, when talks of ACA repeal and replace came up in legislation, healthcare leaders were ready to start preparations for change. But debates have caused uncertainty and has been a considerable concern: Some institutions trying to get ahead of what had seemed an inevitable repeal may now need to reconsider efforts, stuck in a limbo as unnerving as Capitol Hill negotiations are.
Talent Acquisition Amid a Nursing Shortage
External factors are not the only hindrance to smooth healthcare operations, increasingly, leaders have encountered difficulties in staffing efforts. Of New York-based respondents to a 2015 American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 47 percent reported challenges in recruiting experienced nurses, and 52 percent said it was particularly hard to find nursing managers.
The nursing shortage is no new pressure, but it’s been building over time. Factors contributing to this situation—registered nurses getting older, influx of senior patients that require more care and resources—have only compounded as time passes. However, the conditions of the nursing shortage may be a little deceptive, as the rate of nursing students graduating with a bachelor’s or master’s degree have remained steady, if not risen. In fact, 19 percent of responding leaders said bachelor’s-level graduates were not hard to recruit.
The realities of talent acquisition amid the nursing shortage may force leaders to rethink how they hire for not just staff-level positions, but also for managerial positions and the future leaders each system will need to court to remain relevant in the industry. Strategies to consider may be weighing soft skills (demeanor, communication) equal to hard qualifications, or developing more training and internal career tracks to refine talent and produce new nursing leaders.
Technology and Cybersecurity
Technology has revolutionized modern healthcare, much as it has other industries. New advances have made telemedicine possible to better serve rural communities, while the use of electronic health records (EHRs) have improved care transitions and patient interactions.
However, healthcare institutions have been a frequent target of cyberattacks, a 2016 survey from 451 research found 63 percent of healthcare IT professionals have experienced a data breach, and an overwhelming 96 percent feel vulnerable. Healthcare providers have been particularly attractive targets for cybercriminals because of the wealth of sensitive and financial consumer data they store.
Having capable cyberdefenses is no longer a question of “should we?” but an absolute requirement. This is not only made clear by the growing cyber threat landscape, but the fact regulations—like HIPAA—increasingly require new tools and solutions to counter these attacks: 61 percent of responding health IT professionals said meeting compliance standards was their greatest concern in protecting data.
A major consequence of modern healthcare reforms is the continued drive toward a consumer-centric model. This trend toward consumerism is increasingly visible in many industries, but nowhere more important than healthcare. Indeed, leaders are well-aware of this move, but tools, solutions and processes needed to counter this reality are not as widespread as they need to be.
A recent survey from advisory firm Kaufman Hall and Cadent Consulting Group found of 100 executives at U.S. healthcare systems, 65 percent rated consumerism as an above-average priority; the illuminating statistic, however, is the undersized share of those who reported having capabilities to develop consumer insights (23 percent) and those who can deploy strategic initiatives based on consumer insight (16 percent).
The gap in understanding consumerism as a priority and be positioned to handle it was evident: 79 percent said improving the patient experience was a pressing need, yet 18 percent had the means to do so. A primary action to take for healthcare systems struggling with consumerism is to distribute surveys to patients and the workforce. Gleaning insights from actual responses will help define challenges to solve, and consumer desires that leaders can bring into greater focus at their system.
Healthcare Leaders Need to Better Understand Pressures, Responses
It has been a rather turbulent time for healthcare institutions, and all indicators point to continued challenges. It’s up to leaders to steer their systems toward success, both on the financial and operational level, but also regarding quality of care and delivery.
Reform, cyberattacks, lacking preparations for consumerism and a nursing shortage are just a few examples of the pressures facing leaders; pressures that require exact and efficient solutions. The key lies in understanding all the context that surrounds these trends, and then placing it in relation to a health system’s particular situation.
This kind of planning takes serious time and effort, among other vital resources. However, leaders may be able to improve their understandings of problems and answers by engaging in an online course, like The George Washington University’s Master of Business Administration. Doing so may expose students to different ways of thinking and tackling challenges.