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Medical Staff Planning: 4 Things to Consider

Jackson Physician Search
December 13, 2021

Medical staff planning has never been more important. The much-discussed Great Resignation is hitting the healthcare community particularly hard. The impact of COVID-19, along with other factors, has caused physicians and other healthcare providers to rethink their careers. In a 2021 Jackson Physician Search whitepaper on physician retention, 54% of physicians said the COVID-19 pandemic had changed their employment plans. Some report seriously considering switching to a new employer, while others may retire early or leave the profession altogether. Whatever the reason, physicians are on the move, and organizations must plan for how they will deal with it.

Of course, the shortage of physicians is not the only reason to prioritize medical staff planning. Organizations must ensure they have the staff they need to meet the changing needs of the community. The basics of supply and demand apply here. A healthcare organization must be adequately staffed to meet the demand for healthcare services. If it hopes to be financially viable, it can have no more physicians than necessary. Alternatively, to keep wait times to a minimum and patients satisfied, it can have no less.

Achieving the right balance requires regularly conducting a community needs assessment. This exercise is sound business practice for a myriad of reasons, including the design of successful physician recruitment strategies and compliance with Stark Law. Organizations must be able to document the community need for a recruited physician, which not only encourages buy-in among current physician staff, but it also shows physician candidates that the community need will enable them to achieve their productivity and financial goals.

In this post, we’ll examine four key considerations of medical staff planning and touch on how to apply them as you develop and adapt your medical staffing plan.

4 Considerations of Medical Staff Planning

The how-tos of medical staff planning will vary significantly depending on the size of the healthcare organization. However, regardless of size, all organizations have similar points to consider as they create a medical staffing plan, as well as when they regularly revisit and adapt the plan.

1. Projected Departures

Medical staff planning begins with collecting data to gauge the volume of departing physicians in the coming years. Some departures are easier to predict than others. Leadership should start a dialogue with physicians nearing retirement age and request transparency as they begin to shape their retirement timelines. Ensure they don’t feel they are being pushed out or pressured to stay, but rather, they should feel supported and encouraged to make leadership aware of plans to scale back or retire, no matter how tentative or distant.

Of course, physicians leave organizations for many reasons–retirement being just one of them. In fact, recent studies put the average annual rate of physician turnover at 7%. Some physicians leave due to personal or family circumstances–a spouse relocation or a relative with failing health–while others are simply seeking greener pastures. These scenarios can be difficult to project, though the possibility of the latter may be detected through regular one-on-one conversations between physicians and managers. If a manager senses a physician is especially burned out or dissatisfied at work, they should know the physician is not likely to stay in the job and can start preparing for the departure.

How To: Conduct an environmental scan to forecast recruitment needs. Gather data on physicians currently on staff to understand their demographics, specialties, skill sets, and patient volumes. Use the data to create a timeline that estimates the number of physicians likely to retire in each specialty for the foreseeable future. Consider industry data on physician turnover trends as well as feedback from managers to help estimate non-retirement turnover. A good physician recruitment partner can help you use these projections to create a physician recruitment timeline. Review updated data regularly and revise the plan and timeline as needed.

2. Anticipated Growth

A medical staffing plan must address physician turnover, but this is just one consideration. It must also factor in the organization’s plans for growth. A strategic medical staffing plan ensures the organization is properly staffed to meet growth targets. Whether aiming for a specific revenue goal, a certain patient volume, or both, the organization must have the right number of healthcare providers on staff to deliver the care that will allow it to achieve those goals.

Ideally, the organization’s growth targets align with the community’s projected healthcare needs. To ensure accuracy, the organization must regularly assess the surrounding area’s population and demographics, as well as how many other healthcare organizations are available to meet demand. A deep dive on patient wait times and the need for different specialists in the area can inform both organizational goals as well as the medical staffing plan. Finding alignment in these areas is key to success.    

How To: Calculate the population of the organization’s primary service area and estimate the share of the market served. Analyze population and healthcare trends to project the needs of the community and determine staffing levels required to meet those needs. A healthcare consultant and/or software application may be useful in analyzing the data to make these complex projections. Healthcare consultant SullivanCotter offers a thorough Physician Needs Assessment tool for more robust intelligence. 

3. Potential of Internal Talent

Who among the current staff is capable and interested in stepping into a bigger role? What training would be needed to prepare current staff for promotion? Reviewing the potential of physicians already employed by the organization is an essential step in medical staff planning. Not only will it save the time and cost of recruitment for the higher level position, but internal hires are likely to reach full productivity faster than an external hire. Across industries, multiple studies suggest that internal hires outperform external hires, have better retention rates, and save the organization money.

How To: Regular, open communication between physicians and leadership is essential for improving physician engagement, physician job satisfaction, and managing burnout. Communication is also the key to identifying potential leaders among current staff. Once potential leaders are identified, managers must ensure these physicians have access to the training and development they need to ready them for the next step. In the JPS physician retention survey, only 26% of physicians said their employers offered a leadership development program. Make sure you are giving physicians the training they need to reach their full potential.

4. Changes in Care Delivery

Organizations should also consider how changes in care delivery could better serve the patient population and inform the medical staffing plan. For example, the COVID-19 impact has shone a light on how effective Advanced Practice Providers can be in the delivery of patient care. Even before COVID, experts pointed to Advanced Practice Providers as a valuable tool in solving the physician shortage. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are trained to provide many of the same services as physicians, often at a lower cost to the insurer and lower overhead for the organization.

Another example of changes impacting medical staffing is the emergence of telehealth. Though possible prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth visits became a widely accepted channel for care delivery. Now that face-to-face visits are deemed safe, the convenience of telehealth makes it an attractive option for patients and providers alike. According to research from McKinsey & Company, as of July 2021, the volume of telehealth visits is 38 times greater than prior to the pandemic.

Organizations must determine how increased telehealth visits will impact medical staffing plans and recruiting. According to the JPS whitepaper on how COVID-19 changed the physician job market, during the pandemic, many physicians discovered a preference for practicing via telehealth, so adjusting for this shift in your medical staffing plan may improve recruitment efforts.

How To: Monitor changing trends in care delivery with an eye for how it might impact your staffing plan. A permanent physician recruitment partner can assist in this area. They have relationships with organizations all over the country and are thus attuned to how others are adapting and can advise accordingly.

If you need assistance creating a recruitment timeline or determining the appropriate staffing mix for your organization, Jackson Physician Search is eager to help. Contact us today to learn how we can assist with medical staff planning at your organization.

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