Staffing Will Be ‘Significant’ Future Challenge at Medical Practices

March 12, 2012

As the field of healthcare is changing, so are the attributes required in a great healthcare provider.

Have you ever played a team sport? What clubs are you involved in? Tell me about a recent group project you participated in? 

While a few years ago you would have never considered asking (or answering) these questions during physician employment interviews, you may want to jot them down now. As the field of healthcare is changing, so are the attributes required in a great healthcare provider.

“With the advent of new payment reforms, providers are really having to look for qualities that haven’t been so important before,” Tom Flatt, spokesman for the American Medical Group Association (AMGA), told Physicians Practice.

In other words, a physician’s ability to collaborate, lead, and fit in with the rest of the healthcare team is becoming more and more important, says Flatt.

Why? Reimbursement is shifting to focus more on health outcomes rather than productivity of services - think accountable care, patient-centered medical homes, and bundled payments. To improve outcomes, physicians will need to “work with” other physicians, non-physician providers, and physicians of different specialties, says Flatt. “It’s a team-based mentality.”

Flatt was speaking to Physicians Practice about the results of the 2011 AMGA and Cejka Search Physician Retention Survey released Monday, which found that not only are the attributes required in physicians and staff members shifting as a result of health reform, so is the type and structure of staffing needed.

In fact, according to the survey, “forming and maintaining care teams - especially in primary care - will be among the industry’s most significant challenges.”

Here’s why.

Providers are having more and more difficulty recruiting and retaining employees, according to the survey, which found that the turnover rate for nurse practitioners and physician assistants is 12 percent; and the adjusted physician turnover rate is 6 percent. That’s on top of the looming physician shortage.

Making matters worse, the survey also found that medical practices will face fiercer competition when hiring. Nearly three-quarters of the 80 provider organizers who responded to the survey said they plan to hire more or significantly more primary-care physicians this year than they did last year. None said they would reduce their primary-care staffing.

Another reason forming care teams will be a key challenge is because there’s not yet a recognized “recipe” for success when it comes to forming them. In other words, it’s still unclear just what type of team - what combination of roles, medical skills, people skills, leadership skills, etc. - will be most successful in these new payment models.

But such guidance may be coming. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced last week that it is teaming up with the Group Health Research Institute to form a new program to identify up to 30 primary-care practices that are using “innovative staffing arrangements to maximize the contributions of healthcare professionals and other staff.”

The hope is that the successful staffing arrangements identified by the healthcare research organizations can be replicated by practices throughout the country.

What do you think? Will practices begin looking for new qualities and skills in physician candidates as a result of health reform? Will health reform cause your staffing structure to shift?