Communication barriers in healthcare are just one of many challenges facing the industry right now. From staffing shortages to rising costs, health systems are feeling strained. Will you let this be a catalyst for change and growth? Or will you let it keep impacting your business and the communities you support?
Current Challenges in Healthcare
The sad reality is that there are innumerable issues facing the healthcare industry right now. After years of strain from the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is still reeling from that disruption, coupled with the issues that already existed within our health systems.
Employee Relations Are Strained
The staffing shortages we saw spike during the COVID-19 pandemic haven’t abated, even though COVID-19 hospitalizations have gone down.
These labor shortages and increasing levels of burnout seem to have no end in sight. As a result, it’s led to more healthcare employees participating in strikes to negotiate for higher pay and better working conditions or even unionizing.
Though nurses have historically been more involved in labor unions, there have also been spikes in resident physician unionization.
Health System Costs Soar
Healthcare staff are demanding more pay and better conditions after years of being overworked in hazardous conditions.
But between labor strikes, the high cost of contract labor to fill vacancies, and general increases in operating costs, health systems are feeling financial strain. This is especially impacting nonprofit hospitals.
Hiring Isn’t Happening Fast Enough
It’s not just that healthcare staff are quitting more. It’s that not enough new employees are joining the workforce compared to those who are retiring.
The American Hospital Association (AHA) says, “the aging population is increasing demand for health care services…and more Americans are nearing retirement age than entering working age.”
Healthcare Executives Struggle
Not surprisingly, continued labor relation disputes and increasing operating costs are also having an impact on the C-Suite.
Healthcare executives are reporting higher levels of burnout and even quitting more often. In fact, 74% of healthcare executives say they feel burned out.
Time for a Healthcare Reckoning?
These trends aren’t all doom and gloom though. The AHA says in their 2023 Health Care Workforce Scan that “massive disruption in health care has an upside.”
That is to say that when we’re faced with tremendous challenges, this can be a catalyst for change. And much of that change is likely to come in the form of new technology—not unlike the rise of telehealth to improve timeliness of care for more people.
The Rise of Work Flexibility
When we think about healthcare employees, we often think about long shifts and night shifts. The picture of a weary, hard-working nurse comes to mind.
But flexibility is seeping into the healthcare workforce.
The AHA says that 37% of healthcare staff will be remote or hybrid going forward.
While that mostly benefits hospital support staff, rather than frontline employees (nurses and doctors), there’s also a rise of more flexible scheduling. Modern staffing models will give workers more shift options with more variable start times and durations.
The Top Communication Barriers in Healthcare
All these trends ladder up to a whole lot of employee communication issues.
When employees feel burnt out, they often are feeling disconnected from a larger purpose or that their organization doesn’t value them.
When employees quit, they often don’t see clear career paths or opportunities for advancement.
If organizations don’t get ahead of communicating about the industry and trends that will impact their staff, people naturally get nervous. Employees see the news. They see their friends quitting. They see their coworkers unionizing.
Your internal communication strategy has to rise to the challenge. You simply have to meet people where they are.
And although communication can’t solve all the challenges facing the healthcare industry, it can help you share your plans, get ahead of issues, and reinforce your employee value proposition to encourage your teams to stay.
Let’s talk about how.
How Communication Helps Overcome Barriers in Healthcare
There are a few key ways that you can use communication to overcome the barriers you face as a healthcare organization.
Focus on Onboarding Communication
Most organizations, not just those in the health sector, struggle with employee onboarding. But this is a huge area of opportunity.
How well we onboard and welcome new hires can make a huge difference on whether or not they burnout and quit early on. The AHA says that “the first year of employment often determines whether or not employees build loyalty.”
So, how do you improve your onboarding communication?
It starts with great content. Do you give employees the resources, training, and tools they need early on? And then is it easy for employees to find and access that content on the job?
But another key component is to empower local leaders to be mentors. Investing in a mentorship program where new hires can find a support system and allies within their workplace is huge for long-term employee success and retention.
Focus on Employee Engagement
Burnout-related turnover costs healthcare $9 billion for nurses and $2.6 – $6.3 billion for physicians (AHA).
The secret? Invest in employee engagement strategies like:
- Wellness initiatives. When workers are burnt out, it’s a sign of stress and not being able to recharge. Focusing on all aspects of employee wellbeing —from emotional to financial—can boost engagement and help get employees back on track.
- Career development. A big problem in healthcare is that there can be a development ceiling. Once you’ve worked in the field for awhile, there really aren’t other chances for growth or raises. Look into finding more leadership opportunities and cross-functional professional development tracks for employees. And make sure you are regularly communicating the options and benefits of growing within your organization.
- Employee upskilling. More than half of healthcare workers are interested in upskilling (AHA). They want to feel invested in and they want to stay relevant with changes in technology and best practices in medicine. Doing so will help them feel competitive and relevant in the industry, but also help you create an even more effective workforce. You can educate employees simply using microlearning content on your channels or you can invest in more rigorous training sessions.
- Culture and purpose. Employees want meaningful work. And it’s not enough to just help people. That’s why they got into healthcare, not why they work for you specifically. That’s why creating a mission-driven culture with unique values and benefits is critical to retention and engaging your teams. But you can’t just say you have values and a strong mission, you have to demonstrate them with your company communications every day.
Focus on Communication Technology
Often, when you think about technology investments in healthcare, you’re thinking about the actual medicine. Or your charting software.
But the tools you use to communicate with your workforce, to recognize them, and to get ahead of crisis or trends in the industry, are just as important.
When used right, internal communication technology can make your workforce more productive and more connected to one another.
Tools to Help You Connect Your Healthcare Teams
So, what is the right employee communication software for your business? With more remote and hybrid workers as well as frontline teams, you’ll need a multi-channel strategy to reach everyone on the channels they prefer. Let alone have access to while at work.
This means, you’ll want to have channels that are mobile-first and desktop accessible.
It also means that targeting communication is essential. No more wasting your people’s time with all-employee newsletters. We have to target and personalize content to create engaging and impactful experiences that show our teams we value their time.
With theEMPLOYEEapp, we make it easy for you to manage and administer an intranet, employee app, and texting solution all from one content management system (CMS). Want to see it in action? Request a demo today.
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