By Karen Taylor, Director Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions

Global healthcare outlook 2Deloitte’s, 2021 global health care outlook: Accelerating industry change, explores the six critical foundational shifts driving change in the health care sector. These shifts, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, comprise consumers and the human experience; care model innovation; digital transformation and interoperable data; socio-economic shifts; public-private collaborations; and the future of work and talent. How governments understand and respond to these issues will shape their ability to navigate through recovery and thrive post-pandemic.  Over the next couple of months, as part of our blog series, we will examine each shift in turn. This week’s blog considers the future of work and talent, starting with the challenges pre-pandemic, the impact of the pandemic and need for adaptable and resilient workforce for the future. 

The pre-pandemic workforce challenges

The strain and stress experienced by the health and care workforce is arguably one of the most important and pervasive challenges that needs to be addressed if we are to realise a sustainable healthcare system. As we highlight in our 2019 report  Time to care: Securing a future for the hospital workforce in Europe, without a workforce there can be no healthcare, yet across Europe the workforce is buckling under the strain of growing workloads, poor work-life balance, declining morale and increasing numbers of staff with mental and physical health and wellbeing issues. It highlights the World Health Organisation’s prediction of a shortfall of up to 18 million health professionals (two million in the EU alone) by 2020 and the need for an ethical approach to recruitment aimed at protecting low-income countries. Although the report was focused on the hospital workforce, we are seeing similar challenges in primary and social care.

The 2021 global outlook report recognises the ‘brain drain’ problem and that developing countries have stepped up their efforts to limit overseas recruitment. It illustrates this point with reference to the Philippines who passed a Universal Healthcare Law in 2018 requiring healthcare students who receive state scholarships to work in the country for at least three years.

The impact of COVID-19 on the future of work and talent

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an even greater strain on the global healthcare workforce as organisations had to pivot their staffing models to respond to higher levels of hospital admissions and previously unseen levels of intensive care requirements while trying to devise ways of providing care and reducing the risks of infection. This increased demand accelerated the need for change across the system, forcing public and private health systems to adapt and innovate in a short period. Indeed, despite having little time to respond, organisations nevertheless reorganised services and trained staff to work in new ways in unfamiliar teams. While most staff responded heroically, the pace and scale of change and the challenges in trying to identify effective ways to treat patients and protect staff has inevitably placed unprecedented pressures on the workforce.1

The healthcare outlook report also highlights how international travel bans have led to difficulties recruiting foreign health care workers. Many governments have filled gaps by encouraging retired doctors and nurses to assist with COVID-19 care, as well as accelerating medical trainees’ placement in hospitals. While these moves are expected to increase the ratio of doctors per 1,000 population from 1.9 in 2019 to over 2.0 in 2024, 117 countries are likely to still need foreign medical workers. Importantly, COVID-19, has accelerated several aspects of the future of health, and become the catalyst to a future of work that might otherwise have taken years to attain.

Adapting to the virtual workplace

As countries begin to recover from the pandemic, few people will return to the workplace they knew pre–COVID-19. Even front-line clinicians who never left their physical workplaces, have watched their jobs change in countless ways. Moreover, with people unable or unwilling to leave their homes for health or safety reasons, health and care providers and their workforces have had to adapt services to accommodate their needs including significant increases in the use of virtual visits.2 Indeed, the increased adoption of provider-to-patient and provider-to-provider interactions in virtual settings is likely to continue given the fact it is more convenient and cost-efficient to monitor, sense, diagnose, intervene, and treat acute and chronic conditions.

Reskilling and upskilling the workforce

Health care organisations’ have also recognised the need to upskill their workforce and provide clinicians with the training and tools they need to practice at the top of their license. Identifying future skills and training requirements is another imperative, for example, physicians providing care in virtual settings may need training to polish their “webside” manner. Scenario planning and projections can provide some clarity by identifying the future needs within a broad view of where the organisation is heading. Such insights can help leaders engage in strategic workforce planning to balance the skills requirements of individuals and teams and provide adequate time to participate in learning opportunities.

Blending human-technology capabilities

Advances in clinical process automation, care virtualisation, genomics, and behavioural science are affecting demand for existing health care jobs and skill sets, raising concerns that machines may one day replace human workers. However, far from being substitutes for each other, human and machine intelligence are fundamentally complementary in nature and can lead to new, more productive ways of solving problems, gaining insights, and creating clinical and business value. Changing workforce roles and functions will however require education and training in genomics, digital health and artificial intelligence; and enhanced diagnostics, data analysis, and critical judgment skills; as well as proficiency in interpreting reports and risk scores.

Diversity and inclusion

Concurrent with the need to reskill/upskill the existing workforce for a transformed future is a growing imperative to promote workplace diversity and inclusion. Organisations are increasingly experimenting with different teaming strategies, leveraging team member diversity and trialling new roles. This diversity of identity can provide healthcare teams with the opportunity to tap into different viewpoints and experiences and enhance their effectiveness in working with a diverse group of patients and carers.

Actions to build future adaptability and resilience in the workforce

Addressing near-term workforce challenges arising from COVID-19, particularly safeguarding front-line staff’s safety and well-being while building workforce adaptability and resilience will require data-driven, human-centric solutions that enable healthcare organisations to move quickly to support evolving employee needs. Actions that are needed include:

  • identifying and adopting the right technologies, such as cloud technologies, remote-work platforms, shared services, and AI that enable organisations to extend the new models of care established during the pandemic into the future.
  • reimagining physical and remote spaces using analytics and smart-building technology to optimise the workplace.
  • using data science and predictive analytics to explore and improve how individuals and teams interact and collaborate and pairing these with performance and productivity metrics, as well as employee feedback.
  • prioritising diversity and inclusion as a core enabler of culture and organisational performance, engaging employees in designing the mission of the organisation and offering opportunities for training, development, and growth.
  • developing enduring human skills that make for a more resilient organisation while revisiting traditional notions of training.

COVID-19 has shown that healthcare organisations and their people can respond to the pressure of a crisis, meeting challenges from what seemed impossible and achieving tremendous positive change. But will the pandemic go down in history as a disruptor or will it prove to be a fast-forwarding ‘time machine’ to a new accelerated future of work? A crucial challenge for many organisations will be to discover new ways to thrive in an environment of perpetual change, while staying true to their purpose.

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor - Director, UK Centre for Health Solutions

Karen is the Research Director of the Centre for Health Solutions. She supports the Healthcare and Life Sciences practice by driving independent and objective business research and analysis into key industry challenges and associated solutions; generating evidence based insights and points of view on issues from pharmaceuticals and technology innovation to healthcare management and reform. Karen also produces a weekly blog on topical issues facing the healthcare and life science industries.

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1 https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/life-sciences-and-healthcare/articles/the-who-what-and-where

2 2020 Health care consumer survey: consumer health trends | Deloitte Insights

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