The Shortage of Physicians in Rural Areas and How Physician Scheduling Software Can Help

The Shortage of Physicians in Rural Areas and How Physician Scheduling Software Can Help

One of the biggest challenges facing healthcare today is the shortage of physicians in rural areas. Over 45 million Americans, almost 15% of the population, live in rural areas with low populations that have sparse availability of qualified health professionals. These areas are typically in farming communities or in outlying rural neighborhoods, where the nearest major medical center may be at least an hour away.

Despite the challenges rural healthcare poses for physicians, it’s nonetheless important for those patients to have adequate access to care. Fortunately, scheduling software can help you attract and retain the physicians you need to overcome this challenge.

The impact on health

The shortage of physicians in rural areas is not only an inconvenience to patients, but it also translates into poor health outcomes. Lack of primary care providers means patients do not get preventative health screenings, and often chronic disease goes unrecognized and untreated until a major illness occurs. At that point, the patient has no choice but to travel to a tertiary care center for treatment. Unfortunately, once they are discharged home, they face the same challenge: nowhere to go for a follow-up or continued care.

The impact on the cost of care

Patients residing in rural areas without physicians nearby often visit the emergency room for situations that could have easily been handled in the office. Sore throats, earaches and common minor illnesses can generate a large emergency room bill and a long wait time for treatment for the patient. High ER copays or lack of insurance coverage may keep the patient from seeking care entirely.

A study published by the American Journal of Managed Care showed that out of 11,546 ER visits, 57% were described as truly emergent, 30% of patients had no primary care doctor, and a mere 15% had a follow-up appointment within one week of the ER visit. Additionally, the Healthcare Financial Management Association estimates $8.3 billion is spent annually on ER care that could have been provided in a more suitable, cost-efficient site.

Reasons for the physician shortage in rural areas

There are 7,200 regions in the United States that are classified as Health Professional Shortage Areas. Of those areas, almost 60% are rural locations, revealing the drastic deficit and dire need for more coverage. Despite the need, physicians are reluctant to practice in rural areas.

Physicians state many reasons for their hesitancy to work in rural areas. Although doctors generally get paid more to work in rural areas than in densely populated locations with major medical centers, the long commute times to work and less access to services, complex procedures and research in rural communities makes for a less than ideal situation for docs.

Unfortunately, doctors who do actually practice in rural areas have a high burn-out rate. Despite many studies that cite a lower rate of burnout in physicians in rural areas, these doctors often find they are the only provider in the area, and their schedule is always full. They can’t keep up, they can’t get away for vacations and there is no work-life balance. Additionally, there is a lack of specialists to refer to, and physicians may feel uncomfortable managing complex patients that they could easily send to specialty services if they were available. The fear of a bad patient outcome and legal ramifications is a constant pressure.

How can physician scheduling software help close the rural healthcare gap?

Many large healthcare organizations have used physician scheduling software to help bring better access to healthcare to rural Americans. These progressive organizations realize the value of implanting providers into rural settings. Along with being the right thing to do, it can result in financial benefits for the organization. The physician can be employed by the larger organization and enjoy all the perks while still being accessible to the patients who need them the most.

Additionally, splitting a provider’s time between the main campus office and the rural office may translate into increased referrals to specialty services. After all, patients are willing to travel further distances for specialty care if they have a good relationship with a primary care provider who has recommended the referral.

This type of multi-location service and scheduling may seem intimidating at first – the potential for scheduling nightmares certainly exists in a situation like this. But this is where Intrigma comes in. Your organization can seamlessly create complex schedules for multiple providers across multiple locations using Intrigma’s advanced scheduling software.

Efficient Scheduler for Physicians and Advanced Practitioners can optimize your time spent creating schedules and can help you build a strategy that focuses on the unique scheduling needs of your organization. Scheduling rules automatically avoid costly overstaffing and frustrating understaffing.

The software also is user-friendly and allows your providers to input their availability and access their own schedules via their computer or cell phone app. They can easily view their schedule, request time off and make shift swaps right from their fingertips. The ability to share schedules across providers, offices and departments creates transparency that minimizes scheduling conflicts.

Even locum tenens, or as-needed providers, can be plugged into existing schedules in the case of an unanticipated leave of absence. Intrigma’s unique modular software allows for interim or emergency changes to the schedule to occur in minutes, instead of the hours it used to take in the past. This adaptability of the software has been instrumental in clinics where patient volumes saw a large increase due to the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of reacting to understaffing, the software analyzes patient census on the go and adapts staffing needs proactively.

In rural America, the shortage of physicians is a multi-faceted problem that has been developing for many reasons. One area where you can impact this situation is offering your providers a scheduling platform that they can live with. Allowing your staff to have more control in the creation and maintenance of their schedules is a major driver of provider satisfaction. For more information on how Intrigma can help you recruit and retain qualified physician staff in rural areas, contact Intrigma today.

Credential Management with Healthcare Scheduling Software

Credential Management with Healthcare Scheduling Software

Telemedicine has experienced exponential growth in recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic (it’s expected to increase a total of 64.3% in the US this year). This explosive growth is making quality medical care more accessible to more people, but another interesting phenomenon is occurring: State borders no longer limit medical practice.

While this change in telemedicine offers convenience and accessibility in what are often difficult situations, it does come with challenges. It has complicated compliance requirements with evolving credentialing criteria. Organization is key, and scheduling software can help you keep track of all the aspects of licensing for your staff.

Credentialing in the healthcare field

In a nutshell, credentialing is the process of verifying, reviewing and examining a worker’s certifications, professional licenses, experience, education and other attributes to ensure they meet all requirements under local, state and federal laws.

Credentialing is a protective measure not only for the practitioner but also for the organization and patients. It protects the organization from potential legal action and guarantees that practitioners have the qualifications, training and skills to do the job they are hired to do. It also protects patients by making sure they receive high-quality healthcare from prepared, qualified providers.

Surge staffing in the COVID-19 crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, hospitals are finding their patient load doubled or even tripled — and they lack adequate staffing to keep up with the overflow. Surge staffing is used to combat this problem. But with the nationwide shortage of nurses, physicians and other healthcare workers, surge staffing may already be a necessity.

In most cases, a surge staff is not part of the permanent staff. They are only called when they are needed, so it’s vital that each facility maintain a list of healthcare workers who have agreed to be on the surge staff. This must be updated regularly, including all credentials, so that when extra providers are needed, there’s no last-minute scramble to ensure they are credentialed properly.

Medical and nursing students can also be part of your surge staffing. They can be trained to fill specific roles or perform set tasks such as documentation or physician assistance. They’re great for need-based deployment in medical facilities associated with their schools, and training is typically quick because they already know the material.

With personnel coming from several different areas with different skills and needs, organized scheduling is vital. Intrigma’s scheduling software has hundreds of customizable features that will simplify and streamline your staff coordination across all sources and facilities.

State licensing and waivers

COVID-19 brought telemedicine to mainstream healthcare as people avoided gatherings for fear of contracting the virus. This virtually erased state lines, and doctors soon were able to practice in other states without leaving the office. This opened up yet another credentialing issue.

Each state has its own standards for credentialing healthcare workers, which presents specific barriers for doctors trying to meet the needs of patients in other states. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but in the current climate, there are simply not enough doctors and healthcare workers to care for a steadily increasing population of patients.

A handful of doctors are choosing to be credentialed in all 50 states, but changes are occurring that may make this unnecessary. Most states are responding by making regulatory changes, which fall into three rather broad categories:

  • License reciprocity and waivers. Instead of requiring a physician to have local credentials in order to treat patients either in person or virtually, states are agreeing to accept credentials from other states. If the healthcare professional holds a valid medical license in another state, it will still be accepted in the state where the patient lives.
  • Expedited emergency licensing. Quite a few states have taken this stance and instituted temporary changes to their licensing regulations. They will grant temporary emergency licenses as opposed to reciprocating or waiving the restrictions barring healthcare professionals from crossing state lines to treat patients.
  • Expanded telehealth coverage. Most states have adopted some form of expanded telehealth coverage even if they are already taking the two measures above. This is a much broader step, and each state’s plan looks a little different. Reimbursement plans, waivers for co-pays and deductibles, and access to telemed for patients at home are some of the more common plan components.

These changes make it easier for doctors to treat patients and easier for patients to gain access to the healthcare they need. But they lead to a veritable nightmare for managers and staffing coordinators, who have to keep up with all the credentials for everyone on their staff while also tracking each state’s requirements and regulations. This is where the true benefits of credentialing software really shine.

The enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact

In late 2017, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) coordinated a compact that made it easier for traveling nurses to treat patients who live in other states. On January 19, 2018, the Nurse Licensure Compact was officially implemented.

So far, 32 states have signed the compact into law, and other states are expected to follow soon. Simply put, the compact allows nurses to hold one license but also practice in states other than the one that issued the license. Given the current climate, this capability is crucial to sufficient patient care.

Scheduling software: Organize shifts for a diversified staff

The challenges that managers and staff schedulers face right now are unprecedented in the United States. As we trudge forward, trying to manage the pandemic, many are overwhelmed by the challenges not only for staffing but also for overall organization. Staff may be located in different states and keeping it all in order can seem like a daunting task.

Scheduling software like Intrigma’s Efficient Scheduler for Physicians and Efficient Scheduler for Nurses help your organization keep all its staffing information in order and easily accessible, from licenses to work schedules. It saves time, money and frustration. All the information you need for your staff at your facility is at your fingertips.

COVID-19 is rapidly changing the face of healthcare, especially telemedicine. Finding innovative solutions can make it much easier to manage your staff. Intrigma offers several specialized, customizable tools designed to meet increased patient volumes during this time as well as manage staff practicing across state lines.

To learn more about customized scheduling software solutions, contact Intrigma to discuss your healthcare scheduling needs. If you would like to start your own Free Edition account with Intrigma (no credit card required), click here.

How Nurse Scheduling Software Helps Attract and Keep Nurses

How Nurse Scheduling Software Helps Attract and Keep Nurses

If you’re a medical management professional, you undoubtedly know that attracting and retaining top-level nursing staff is essential. Like all of your staff, nurses must be comfortable with their schedules and know they can deliver great patient care without being overworked or overstressed. Nurse scheduling software can help manage nursing challenges and needs to help you retain them.

Shortages of professionals are a serious concern for healthcare leadership

You may already be dealing with a growing shortage of registered nurses. In 2018, the American Journal of Healthcare Quality forecasted that shortfalls of 154,018 RNs in 2020 will grow to a deficit of 510,394 by 2030.

You also may know that registered nursing is one of the fastest-growing occupations. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report predicted the three million RNs working in 2019 would grow by 7%, adding 221,900 jobs by 2029. The report also projected another 175,900 RNs will be needed yearly through 2029 to replace retirements and other workforce losses.

The BLS report also listed that key factors driving RN job growth were increased demands for preventive care, increased chronic disease rates including diabetes and obesity, and growing care needs of aging Baby Boomers who enjoy longer and more active lifestyles.

Of course, these studies were conducted prior to the emergence of COVID-19. Most of us have seen staffing levels swing widely due to changing government mandates, inconsistent patient volumes, budget fluctuations and clinicians’ personal health concerns.

If your facility is like most others, managing fluctuating staffing levels likely will continue to be a top requirement.

Six other factors that affect recruiting and retaining nurses

Experts point to several other forces impacting nurse staffing requirements.

  1. Telehealth

Telehealth should provide important benefits such as improved patient access and increased utilization of the national healthcare system. The new policy guidelines issued by the CMS in March fall in line with this goal, authorizing payments for telehealth visits, virtual check-ins and E-visits. Also, parity laws in your state are likely to require private payors to cover many telehealth procedures.

Telehealth will reduce staff shortages because more efficient care options and reduced administrative burdens will permit providers to see more patients each day. Registered nurses are expected to play an important role in telehealth because they are the entry point of most patients into the healthcare system and are the main providers of health education and long-term monitoring. Telehealth allows nurses to extend their services to patients in other locations. Additionally, its enhanced communications and information management capabilities permit nurses to collaborate efficiently with other clinicians and serve more patients per shift.

Of course, this implies your nurses are comfortable with technology and trained in telehealth applications. Also, telehealth programs add new dimensions to staff scheduling algorithms including technology variables, added locations and even multiple time zones. However, with scheduling software, like Intrigma’s Efficient Scheduler for Nurses, nurse schedulers can more easily coordinate shifts to help manage the changed environment and schedule nurses who are more comfortable working with telehealth than others.

  1. Millennials and Gen Z

One of the biggest socio-economic factors driving nurse recruiting may be generational preferences. U.S. millennials, numbering 72.1 million, who now make up about one-third of the workforce, will be joined by another 65.2 million younger members of the Gen Z cohort, thereby replacing retiring Baby Boomers and dominating the workforce for decades to come.

In February 2020, HCA Healthcare reported the important factors for attracting and retaining Millennial and Gen Z nurses. The top factors in their findings were work relationships, communications and decision making, professional growth, modern facilities, and a positive work environment.

More than 49% said that flexible work schedules were their top priority.

  1. Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC)

The NLC lets licensed nurses in participating NLC states practice either in person, in their home state or remotely in 33 other NLC states. If your facility is in one of the participating states, your nurses will enjoy greater flexibility to choose where they practice and relocate more quickly in response to changing market economics and work-life preferences.

However, NLC may add new pressures on administrators who manage nurse scheduling and work-life factors. Fortunately, flexible nurse scheduling and credentialing software, like Intrigma’s Credential Management tool, can help manage schedules for those facilities that provide remote nursing or serve multiple jurisdictions.

  1. Nurse practitioners are taking expanded roles in care delivery

With the predicted shortages of primary care physicians, the 248,000 (in 2018) nurse practitioners are expected to assume much larger roles in family medicine, especially in 22 states and the District of Columbia where they have full practice authority. The number of states that grant NPs full practice authority is expected to expand due to national medical associations’ recommendations, plus pressure from the CMS. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects NP jobs will see strong growth of 45% from 2019 to 2029 as well.

With the expanded authority of nurses, scheduling software that enables quick and convenient shift updates (for surges, last-minute changes, etc.) is crucial in saving nurses time and effort, as well as making it easier for them to achieve an optimal work-life balance so they don’t get burnt out.

  1. Payroll costs will continue to rise

As your facility may have experienced, the pandemic drove a 76% increase in salaries for COVID-19 nurses during the first quarter of 2020. Overtime and expenses for traveling nurses added to the costs.

Salary increases may settle down as COVID-19 becomes more controlled, but even modest increases combined with the other factors will propel significantly higher payroll costs. Your scheduling system should be efficient and avoid duplicating work or wasting staff’s time.

  1. Nurse specialization

Recent reports from schools and nurse staffing agencies state that increased specialization is one of the top trends in nursing. Adding new professional skill categories and job duties require flexible and easily customizable scheduling software, like Intrigma’s, to coordinate shifts and maintain a diverse staff capable of handling various situations.

Quality staffing management is critical for attracting and retaining nurses

A report on the causes of nurse turnover and shortages revealed that while a number of factors come into play, a lack of control over staffing ratios was a key reason nurses chose to leave their profession.

Fortunately, modern nurse scheduling software can help avoid turnover by:

  • Adding flexibility.
  • Improving nurses’ productivity and satisfaction.
  • Being quick and accurate regarding last-minute changes and shortages.
  • Being fair and sensitive to nurses’ work-life balance.
  • Saving nurse managers time when scheduling shifts.

Contact Intrigma to learn how scheduling software can help you meet the ever-changing challenges of efficient nurse scheduling and help you attract and retain top-tier staff.