Healthcare organizations are developing their workforces for the future. And they are facing complex dynamics along the way – just like those employers across other industries, no less. On the demand side, healthcare organizations are being held to new standards, especially as the need for new skillsets increases. Customers with access to new levels of technology and raw data are demanding new types of services. On the supply side, the shape of the workforce itself is changing, with a greater orientation toward temporary and freelance work, and new opportunities for automation as artificial intelligence grows in sophistication.
There are three overarching questions healthcare organizations need to ask themselves while managing these dynamics:
- What will the future workforce look like in terms of skills, size, and structure?
- How will that new workforce be implemented?
- And how can the transition be managed?
These questions need to be considered as part of an overall strategy, instead of existing in an isolated human resources silo. Similarly, the question of what skills represent core points of strategic control versus those that can be outsourced needs to be considered – not just from a human resources perspective, but from an enterprise strategic point of view.
Outsourcing Care Finances Has Its Loopholes, and Advocates
The ability to access externally is growing easier, as younger generations demonstrate more comfort with freelance work, healthcare start-ups develop strong capabilities at focused points on the value chain, and established non-healthcare organizations see opportunity and begin to offer their services within a healthcare context. Given the complexity of the tasks most healthcare organizations are already responsible for, it is tempting for organizations to adopt an orientation in which most non-core activities are outsourced in one way or another.
However, that is not a foolproof idea, as a recent article in Kaiser Health News illustrates. This article describes a growing trend where hospitals outsource the financing of care to third-party banks that work separately with patients and take a cut of proceeds. This creates problems. Patients are pressured to make significant financial decisions while under emotional stress, and thus feel ill-served by their healthcare providers. In addition, the loan amounts do not always accurately reflect the post-insurance payments for which consumers would truly be responsible, resulting in inflated costs to patients. Ultimately, an attempt to outsource a non-core competency ended up presenting patients with a less valuable service at a higher price.
Opponents of this view may conclude that this is simply an example of poorly implemented outsourcing, and that more rigorous vetting of partner financial institutions and better designed processes might have prevented this issue, even in an outsourced structure. This may be true, however, an important insight from this example is that the system by which healthcare is paid for is critical to a consumer’s experience. But the question nonetheless remains: Is it a mistake for healthcare organizations to outsource that pivotal consumer touchpoint?
It is true outsourcing an aspect of payment to specialized organizations means the chance of securing revenue increases. When bad debt makes up nearly five percent of hospital revenues, this is significant. However, it is also true that consumers are increasingly comfortable making their own healthcare decisions, driven by peer-consumer ratings, which are in turn driven by negative collection experiences. One in four individuals reports viewing physician reviews before choosing one. And although only four percent say they use ratings to choose their hospital today, this number will only increase.