Health leaders take on workforce changes

Healthcare reform, an aging population and a physician shortage are factors forcing hospital executives to rethink staffing, both inside and outside hospital walls, according to a panel discussion Tuesday during the U.S. News & World Report's Hospital of Tomorrow conference.

Healthcare providers need to find the right mix of skilled workers but avoid excessive workforce cuts, which can negatively impact quality care and therefore readmissions, CEOs from healthcare systems, hospitals and staffing agencies said.

The transition to value-based care is a step in the right direction. For example, William B. Leaver, president and CEO of UnityPoint Health, an integrated health system in Iowa, spoke of his organization's shift to value-based care and increased emphasis on coordinated care in 2009. "He who can figure out how to manage chronic disease in a more efficient, effective manner will win, will be the long-term survivor," Leaver said.

Leaver also discussed the value of recruiting new physicians in light of the looming shortage. "At some point in the future, we are going to have fewer people who are physicians," Leaver said, and as such, it's important to keep physicians from feeling like they are "on a treadmill." UnityPoint "really set the strategy as a physician recruitment and replacement strategy," he said.

A transition to team-based care also will be necessary, according to Victor Buzachero, corporate vice president of innovation, human resources and performance management for Scripps Health, a private, nonprofit health system in San Diego, echoing remarks by a panel at Monday's keynote session. "With the advent of healthcare reform, there are new skill sets that most of us do not have," he said.

The physician shortage, Buzachero said, is more accurately described as "a surplus of labor but an acute shortage of talent."

Panelists said the staffing transition would require a change in mindset as well. "I think healthcare is going to have to think far outside the box in terms of how we approach things and how we think about who's going to do what," Leaver added. "Our physicians need to be driving the clinical transformation ...  the more they drive it, the more they will own it."

"What got us here today ... will not get us where we need to go in the next few years," Buzachero said.