Labor shortages have ravaged nearly every industry over the past few years, and the health care system has been no exception. Between February and June 2022, more than 2.7 million health care and social assistance workers left their jobs—leaving hospital executives in a bind. One recent survey of hospital leaders found that more than 90 percent of respondents said their facility experienced challenges related to staffing or labor within the past few years. While labor shortages have a plethora of obvious implications on the health care industry and the quality of patient care, they also significantly impact clinical data management, an increasingly crucial component of hospital operations.
The need for clinical data management
Clinical data management has steadily risen to prominence within the health care industry, serving as the key to unlocking the knowledge embedded within patient medical records and other unstructured data. In fact, former FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, identified the leveraging of clinical data in 2018 as a “key strategic priority for the FDA.” The FDA has also recognized the value of real world data within clinical data registries, which has the potential to support medical product development. This is largely a result of the insights that can be gathered on a defined patient population and a patient’s disease history, complications, and medical care.
The labor shortage and its impact on clinical data management
Yet, because of impending retirements from health care workers, an aging national population, and heightened burnout because of the pandemic, the prioritization of clinical data management is at risk. These pressures have contributed to the significant labor shortage that may threaten the ability of hospitals and health systems to maintain sufficient staffing levels outside of administering care, such as capturing and interpreting clinical data to inform decision-making, support regulatory compliance and improve outcomes in care. Without sufficient staff, clinical data management cannot be supported.
A survey conducted earlier this year revealed the extent to which the labor shortage has affected clinical data management practices and staffing levels. In the survey, nearly nine in 10 respondents said that labor shortage challenges changed how they managed their clinical data. Furthermore, the shortage has also impacted the number of experienced clinical data management staff; about a third of respondents reported that less than half of their team had more than five years of clinical data experience. As a result of the shortage, hospital leaders are often unable to hire staff with all the skills and experience desired and instead may need to train less experienced staff to compensate. This adds additional strain to staff who are already experienced, as they now must spend considerable time training new staff to perform their duties. Although some hospitals and health systems have witnessed some relief from the labor challenges, the survey revealed that more than a quarter of respondents shared that they have not experienced any relief, demonstrating that difficulties for some continue to lie ahead.
Solutions for health leaders
Despite current operational limitations, the future of CDM continues to present many opportunities for enhanced organizational and societal value. There are several steps hospitals and health system leaders can take to mitigate the impacts of health care staffing shortages. One large cause of staffing shortages is due to burnout; hospital executives can improve their culture of teamwork and open communication, increase access to mental health, and reduce the administrative burden on health care workers to minimize fatigue. In addition, hospitals can conduct cost assessments to determine inefficiencies and reallocate funding to make better use of clinical data. Hospital leaders must use these assessments to determine what CDM programs are most valuable and how efficiently their investments are being used. Lastly, investing in innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence platforms can assist clinical data management staff and curb the implications of fewer employees.
The health care industry will become more reliant on quality clinical data to improve patient outcomes and inform treatment modalities as its use broadens. Consequently, as hospitals and health systems continue to grapple with labor shortages and their consequences, it will be imperative for the future of health care that clinical data management is not neglected. With the right measures, hospital executives can help health systems invest in value-added, quality focused registries, streamline operational management for greatest efficiency and remain focused on advancing patient care.
Doug McGill is the lead consultant for advisory solutions at Q-Centrix.
Published in Integrated Healthcare Executive. See the article here.