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How to combat the turnover crisis in outpatient medical practices

Commentary
Article
Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics November 2023
Volume 100
Issue 11

Clinicians seek professional autonomy, fair compensation

burned-out doctor at laptop ©makistock-stock.adobe.com

©makistock-stock.adobe.com

The pivotal role of health care professionals cannot be overstated. From clinicians and nurses to administrative staff, these individuals form the backbone of a well-functioning health care system. However, a mounting crisis is casting a shadow over this sector: employee turnover. Particularly concerning is the turnover crisis faced by outpatient medical practices. To better understand the drivers behind this mass exodus, it is imperative to further explore the underlying reasons for this crisis and explore strategies that can be adopted to mitigate its impact.

Turnover’s cost

The numbers are staggering: the cost of losing a single clinician in a health care setting can soar as high as $85,000 when accounting for recruitment, onboarding, and lost productivity. While the exact figures might vary based on factors such as location, specialty, and level of expertise, the financial impact is undeniably significant. With health care already grappling with budget constraints, these exorbitant costs place additional strain on an already burdened system.

The fact is it costs far more to replace than retain, and health care organizations across the U.S. are suffering from high turnover, a crisis that leads to a negative impact not only on hospital finances, but patient outcomes as well.

Understanding the turnover crisis in outpatient practices

The demanding nature of health care work often leads to burnout among clinicians. In outpatient settings, clinicians are expected to juggle a large patient load, administrative responsibilities, and the pressure to provide quality care within limited time frames. This can result in physical and emotional exhaustion, prompting talented professionals to seek a healthier work-life balance elsewhere.

Additionally, health care professionals thrive when they have the autonomy to make critical decisions regarding patient care. In some outpatient practices, excessive bureaucratic oversight and rigid protocols can hinder their ability to exercise their clinical judgment. This erodes job satisfaction and fosters an environment conducive to turnover.

Another factor in the turnover crisis is compensation, which has a significant impact on job satisfaction and retention. While health care professionals might not expect to match the salaries of corporate positions, they do expect fair compensation for their expertise and dedication. Disparities in compensation between outpatient practices and other health care settings can drive clinicians away in pursuit of better financial prospects.

Turnover can also be attributed to a lack of career advancement. The health care sector offers a range of opportunities for specialization and career growth. However, clinicians can perceive a lack of opportunity for advancement and might be enticed by other industries that promise a more promising career trajectory.

Finally, outpatient medical practices that don't invest in proper training, technology, and resources can leave clinicians feeling unsupported and frustrated. A lack of necessary tools can impede the delivery of efficient and effective care, prompting talented professionals to seek positions where their skills are better utilized. Additionally, short staffing and work overload, which are indicative of a lack of resources and support by health care leaders, causes providers to look elsewhere and even leave the health care field altogether.

Strategies for mitigating turnover

While the list of reasons for turnover can seem daunting, the silver lining is that each of these issues is also an opportunity for improvement. As we pivot into ways that we can improve conditions for health care workers, you might notice what is not listed here – any mention of pizza parties, optional “self-care” group exercises, or raffling sports tickets. If you really want to make an impact, then you simply listen to why people are leaving. Health care workers (largely) enjoy the work and are not asking for unreasonable changes, rather, they are yearning to feel respected and valued.

There are a few key ways health care leaders can slow the rate of turnover: prioritizing and enforcing a work-life balance, empowering clinicians and providing compensation and support. Encouraging work-life balance through reasonable scheduling, adequate vacation time, and flexible hours can go a long way in reducing burnout and turnover. Practices that genuinely care about the well-being of their employees are more likely to retain a satisfied and motivated workforce. Granting clinicians a degree of autonomy and involving them in decision-making processes can boost job satisfaction.

This empowerment not only fosters a sense of ownership but demonstrates that their expertise is valued. While financial incentives aren't the sole motivator, offering competitive compensation packages is essential to attract and retain top-tier talent. Practices should conduct regular market analyses to ensure their compensation aligns with industry standards.

Creating opportunities for skill enhancement and career advancement within the practice can entice clinicians to stay. This can involve supporting continuing education, mentoring programs, and pathways to leadership positions. Adequate resources, including modern medical equipment and efficient technology systems, can enhance the overall work environment. When clinicians have the tools they need to perform at their best, they are more likely to stay committed to the practice.

The turnover crisis in medical practices is not merely a financial concern; it impacts patient care, staff morale, and the overall quality of the health care system. By acknowledging the root causes of turnover and implementing proactive strategies, practices can mitigate the financial burden and foster an environment where health care professionals are motivated to stay, ultimately contributing to improved patient outcomes and a more sustainable health care ecosystem.

Brian White is chief revenue officer and co-founder of Doorspace

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