November 9, 2022
Even before the pandemic, it was frustratingly hard to find, hire, and keep the best clinicians and administrative staff. With post-pandemic surges in mental health and substance use disorder issues and the complex set of challenges related to the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, behavioral health organizations face ever-more daunting hurdles to recruit and retain the best employees. In this article, we share how behavioral health care organizations can improve how they engage and retain the employees that are at the heart of their business.
Even as the job market begins to cool for other industries, behavioral health remains chronically understaffed. Currently, there are only enough providers to meet 28% of the need for mental healthcare in the U.S. While the conditions that have led to this shortage have taken shape over many years, almost every factor has been exacerbated by the uniquely challenging demands of the pandemic. Perhaps the most significant factor is the surge in demand for behavioral health care, with the World Health Organization reporting a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression since the start of the pandemic. Struggling to meet the needs of patients in this stress-filled environment, the American Psychological Association estimates that 61% of mental health practitioners are suffering from burnout. Now, more than 400,000 workers are projected to leave the field by 2026.
Behavioral health organizations must look for ways to counter the industry’s chronic labor shortages and staggering rates of burnout. Faced with lagging employee engagement, many companies add benefits such as sponsored lunches once a week or in-office yoga classes, only to find that participation drops off quickly and engagement doesn’t improve. Instead, some companies find that leveraging technology, can offer actionable, pragmatic, and meaningful ways to engage employees more effectively.
According to Medscape, 60% of physicians rank having too many administrative tasks as the number one factor most likely to contribute to burnout. While telehealth has been a game changer for patients and providers alike, a telehealth platform can enable clinicians and staff to easily do much more in much less time. By integrating with the EHR system and automating workflows with tools like self-service booking, automated admissions and onboarding, and reporting, telehealth software can significantly reduce time-consuming, manual tasks. This frees both clinicians and administrative staff to focus on delivering quality care to patients, helping to reduce job stress and increase both engagement and job satisfaction.
For behavioral health care organizations, there’s a tremendous opportunity to turn feedback from employees into increased engagement and retention. Just like patients, clinicians have personal preferences when it comes to how and where they work with their patients, whether for virtual or in-person care. Using organizational metrics and measurement-based care data, companies can assess virtual care patient utilization and then optimize clinician schedules to match their own preferences for virtual or in-person care. This flexibility can significantly impact how an employee experiences work. In fact, 79% of organizations in one survey report losing out on at least one job candidate due to the lack of flexibility in work hours and location.
To take this a step further, companies can give clinicians the ability to decide when and what types of virtual care to offer their clients. For behavioral health providers already feeling stress and disengaged at work, shifting their primary client interactions online may increase the risk of burnout. In one recent study, 25% of surveyed workers report feeling tired after video calls, a condition often referred to as Zoom fatigue (Pew). Telehealth software can enable clinicians to engage with patients in many new and different ways, through virtual group therapy, instant messaging, homework, and educational and content. By creating an end-to-end virtual treatment experience packaged as a service, clinicians can provide supportive options outside of scheduled sessions and reinforce the material being learned. Not only can an expanded portfolio of digital services improve treatment outcomes, it can give employees more choice and autonomy in how they do their work, which in turn increases engagement and job satisfaction.
Recently, the behavioral health industry has been exploring adoption of value-based care (VBC) models, shifting reimbursement from fee-for-service to fee-for-outcomes. While much of the discussion around VBC benefits focuses on reduced costs and better outcomes, an important and often-overlooked benefit is that VBC can directly impact factors that, in turn, positively influence how employees view their jobs. For many organizations, the journey to VBC starts with integrating telehealth software with the EHR system. This tight integration means you can set performance metrics and then use real-time analytics to continuously optimize your program and provide documented evidence of value provided to payers and other stakeholders. Sharing these outcomes with employees can foster a greater sense of impact and purpose, and encourage everyone to engage more deeply with the company’s mission.
During the PHE, the requirement for using HIPAA-compliant technology in delivering telehealth services was waived, and many organizations quickly implemented ad hoc solutions to deliver virtual care, using video conferencing tools like Zoom. While these technologies have enabled provider organizations to continue providing care throughout the pandemic, they often fail to adequately address security and privacy concerns, putting both the provider organization and the patient at risk. As point solutions, the limited functionality they offer creates missed opportunities, including improved patient experience, increased efficiencies, reduced costs, and easier ways to expand and scale programs.
Employees are the heart of any company, and that is especially true in behavioral health. Engaged employees are crucial to delivering the best outcomes for patients and the business. Improved technology systems and integrations can help you influence many of the factors that can lead to poor employee engagement and provider burnout. Automating paperwork and manual tasks, providing increased choices for scheduling and digital services, and enabling a VBC approach that increases care quality and outcomes while reducing costs are all impactful ways that you can improve the employee experience and increase engagement.