Travis Singleton works with healthcare provider organizations of all sizes and lately, he's seen an overwhelming similarity among all of them.
"You'd be hard pressed to find one [that isn't at a self-imposed [staff] capacity or just at an operational capacity. I don't know if I have seen our [healthcare] system stretched to this point, probably in the 20 years I've been doing this," says Singleton, senior vice president for Merritt Hawkins, the Dallas-based physician-focused staffing and recruiting firm.
The data from this year's Physicians Practice Staff Salary Survey essentially confirms this. Of the more than 1,000 physicians and practice managers polled for this year's survey, 44.9 percent said their biggest staffing challenge was increased workload and employees performing dual roles. The next closest staffing challenge — staff training and skills not being up to par — came in at a mere 12.5 percent. Moreover, 31.4 percent of respondents say they have increased staff workload without increasing salaries and 28.7 percent say they are understaffed.
Experts say there are various reasons for this trend. Derek Kosiorek, principal consultant at the Medical Group Management Association Healthcare Consulting Group, says it's because job responsibilities are evolving and changing. "We're seeing higher patient responsibility for cost, which means resources have to be dedicated to following up with the patient and collecting that money. Five years ago, it wasn't that much of an issue," he says. For instance, Kosiorek notes talking to patients about payment is a much different experience, he notes, than talking to insurance companies.
Another challenge is finding qualified people to come to small, private practices, according to Emily Glaccum, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based principal at the Medicus Firm, a physician recruiting firm. Struggling to find qualified staffers, whether it's a clinical or administrative role, is especially challenging for private practices in rural areas, she says. "The challenges [at rural medical practices] are huge. Doctors want to be in a big city. Smaller places have to compensate by paying more," she says.
Deb Pharis, president of Practice and Liability Consultants, says it's not just rural areas that are experiencing location-based staffing challenges. In San Francisco, where she is located, practices have a hard time finding capable medical staff when there is a tech boom, as people would prefer to go into a potentially more lucrative field.
Singleton adds that the aging population is another reason practices are being stretched out. Not only are there more baby boomers using the healthcare system, he says, but they are using it more frequently. "When you look at someone 60 years or [older], they are accessing the healthcare system 3 to 4 times more than [someone younger]…the demand has escalated," he says, noting that there isn't enough supply to meet this demand, especially when it comes to doctors. This has led to a trickle-down effect, where staff members have to take on additional responsibilities. For instance, he notes physician assistants and nurse practitioners are taking on more clinical duties from physicians.
*The ninth annual Physicians Practice Staff Salary Survey is here! We surveyed 1,082 practices on the makeup and salaries of their staff. Here are the complete results for national salary data.