The shortage of medical professionals in the chronic care industry is not just a short-term hurdle. It’s a long-term crisis. While physician burnout, retirement, and healthcare costs are exacerbating these shortages across healthcare, it’s impacting long-term care providers at an alarming rate.
According to a survey by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), 94 percent of nursing home providers reported a shortage of staff members. This problem also extends beyond these facilities and is even impacting older adults who are seeking care in their own homes. A joint study by Home Instead and the Global Coalition on Aging found that the U.S. is on track to see a shortage of 151,000 caregivers by 2030 and 355,000 by 2040.
With nearly 3.5 million home health and personal care aids currently in the field, it’s a pipe dream to believe that it’s possible to scale this workforce quick enough to care for the 54 million American adults over 65, 70 percent of whom need long-term services and support. Instead, we need to supplement these caregivers with a remote workforce that supports the clinicians on the ground and digital technologies that automate administrative tasks. In tandem, this digital support can encourage providers to spend more time with the patients who need them the most.
Hybrid Workforce Closing Care Gaps
Many home health providers are beginning to rely on call centers to handle the large volume of patient requests and concerns, however, this approach is often designed to only handle one-off requests and emergency support. Very rarely do these centers pair patients with callers who follow them throughout their care journey, understand their medical history, and genuinely act as an extension of an older adult’s in-person care team.
With regular calls, a remote workforce can support medication adherence by reminding patients to fill prescriptions, follow up on issues addressed during in-office visits, or provide mental health check-ins. This relationship often grows to the point where patients begin to engage more with their care team, proactively calling coordinators to ask questions or voice concerns. By updating these patients’ records in real-time, care managers can fill important gaps between in-office visits and keep clinicians aware of any updates to their patient’s health. This allows office staff to focus on improving care and increasing the number of patient touchpoints instead of spending crucial bandwidth on administrative tasks.
By outsourcing chronic care management and hiring hybrid care coordinators, practices can train remote staff to mirror their culture, workflow, and best practices. In some cases, these remote workers, if local, can even visit the practice every so often to gain valuable face-to-face time with the patients they speak with over the phone.
The flexibility of this hybrid or virtual-first career path is also an effective recruitment tool, not only hiring more care coordinators but ensuring they stay with the practice, and, more importantly, the patients. Meeting employees where they are and allowing them to work from home, at an office with other remote care coordinators, or in the physician’s practice, can promote employee retention and prevent burnout.
Leveraging Remote Patient Monitoring as a Lens into any Home
Understandably, many patients and physicians alike are concerned that home health technology replaces or reduces the role of in-person physicians. However, remote technologies can increase the number of touchpoints, alerting physicians to a patient’s needs and prompting intervention. Otherwise, a patient may not voice their concerns until their next office visit or, in extreme cases, following hospitalization. Gathering passive analytics with blood pressure monitors, bed sensors, and even AI-powered voice analysis can create a virtual exam room, giving physicians the ability to examine and treat a patient from anywhere.
This hybrid care program can also have a massive impact on care equity among older adults. Provider shortages are especially severe in rural areas, and remote patient monitoring technologies can bring specialists into rural and underserved areas, reducing the barriers to care delivery, and ensuring a consistent level of care regardless of location.
These technologies act as risk assessment tools, encouraging physicians to spend their time where they’re needed. With continually worsening physician shortages, providers can save time they would have otherwise spent in EHRs, tracking vital signs, and scheduling patient follow-ups. Instead, they can devote this time to patient communication and care.
The solution to provider shortages isn’t just increasing the home health workforce. While recruiting and training providers is a necessary step, it won’t put a specialist in every older adult’s home who is seeking to age comfortably and safely in place. With remote care coordinators and digital monitoring tools, providers gain the support they need to deliver high-quality care to all their patients wherever they are, and whenever they need it.
The author, David Hunt, is Founder and President, of Cosán.