May 12, 2023
Even as the pandemic wanes and the economy cools, behavioral health leaders rank staff recruitment and retention as top priorities. Years of labor shortages and surging patient demand have left organizations struggling to meet staffing needs. Astute leaders strive to take care of the people who are the heart and soul of delivering high-quality care by prioritizing investments in workplace wellbeing. Many discover that technology can boost their retention strategy by improving the work experience for employees while also helping the organization improve care and business outcomes.
In this article, we’ll consider the unique ways that employee engagement and retention challenge behavioral health organizations, and how technology can support efforts to transform the work experience.
Healthcare employees have been on the front lines for years, and they’re exhausted. Forty-seven percent of healthcare workers plan to leave their current role within the next two to three years; direct care behavioral health organizations report a 43% turnover rate. Leaders tell us that the organizational cost is high: ninety-three percent of the C-suite report burnout negatively impacts their organization, a startling 14% increase from 2018. It’s not surprising that 53% of organizations now cite staffing as their biggest challenge.
The many factors that contribute to these challenges make a daunting list. The emotional demands of the work and low pay make it hard to attract new workers. The tight labor pool can only meet 28% of the current need, Add in the surging demand for behavioral health services, and most organizations now have growing wait lists for services. This mismatch between supply and demand means many patients go without care. Providers feel pressured to cover some of the gap by working longer hours to see more patients.
Already vulnerable to the emotional demands of working with patients who have mental illness, trauma, and substance use issues, overworked providers become less engaged and more stressed, leading to burnout. Among psychiatrists, self-reported burnout rates hover at 78%; for psychotherapists, it’s almost 50% of psychotherapists. When not addressed, prolonged stress and burnout can lead to people leaving the field altogether. This makes an already dire staffing situation even worse. It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.
A typical retention strategy addresses the full spectrum of employee experience, including culture, learning and development, performance management, recognition programs, employee communication, and compensation. Many organizations overlook a key retention enabler: technology. To understand how technology can improve engagement and retention, it’s important to consider what contributes most to employee stress and burnout.
In a recent survey, 61% of healthcare providers rank having too many administrative tasks as the number one factor contributing to burnout. Also on their list: too many work hours (37%) and too little control or autonomy over what tasks they do and how they do them (31%).
By automating tasks and integrating systems in the technology stack such as the electronic health records (EHR) system, virtual care platform, and online patient portal, behavioral health organizations can reduce many of these pains. For employees, technology can represent an investment in improving their experience. A recent Microsoft’s Work Trend Index found that 63% of respondents are “excited about the job opportunities (that) tech creates.” They also ranked technology tools third among 12 potential factors that could reduce workplace stress.
In fact, many behavioral health organizations have discovered that technology can help increase employee retention in the following powerful ways:
Let’s consider each of these capabilities.
Most employees come into behavioral health for the opportunity to make a difference with patients, not to do paperwork. By integrating your EHR with a telehealth platform and online patient portal and automating tasks and workflows, you can give staff more time to spend with patients. Telehealth from OnCall by Qualifacts, for example, makes it easy for providers to record session notes, track and update patient information in their roster, and engage with patients outside of a video call using clinically validated files and forms. Administrative staff can save time by automating admissions through digital forms with eSignature capabilities, and schedule form delivery at specific times or intervals throughout the client journey. Patients can schedule appointments, access their information, and engage with content and staff at their convenience. Reducing the administrative burden of providers and other staff, while also increasing employee and patient engagement, is a win for all.
For behavioral health organizations navigating post-pandemic work models, it’s important to consider how remote and hybrid work can influence employee engagement. Gallup notes that 60% of remote-capable employees, defined as employees who state that their job can be done remotely, prefer hybrid work. Offering flexibility can increase recruitment as well, with 79% of organizations reporting they lost job candidates because of the lack of flexibility in work hours and locations.
By integrating your EHR with virtual care solutions such as telehealth from OnCall by Qualifacts, organizations can get the data they need to assess virtual care utilization. They can use those insights to optimize clinician and staff schedules to match patient preferences for virtual or in-person care, as well as work hours. This flexibility benefits both staff and patients. Hybrid work flexibility also makes it possible to deliver care to patients living in underserved areas or who can’t schedule appointments during regular business hours.
When you improve patient engagement and outcomes, you improve provider and staff engagement as well, creating a virtuous cycle. Integrating your EHR with a telehealth platform lets providers deliver an end-to-end virtual treatment journey that encourages patients to learn and practice new skills outside of scheduled sessions. With access to features such as group virtual therapy, instant messaging, homework assignments, content, and subscription programs, providers and staff can extend care beyond scheduled one-on-one sessions. For example, Trafalgar Addictions Treatment Centers and Pyramid Healthcare have used telehealth and online patient portal solutions from OnCall by Qualifacts to deliver superior end-to-end virtual treatment programs that improve patient outcomes as well as provider experiences.
One of the most powerful and most cost-effective strategies for improving engagement and retention is employee recognition. This is important in healthcare, where just 18% of workers say that teams and groups of people are recognized. The organizational rewards can be tremendous: employees working at healthcare organizations that recognize teams and groups are 3.9 times as likely to feel connected.
Integrating your EHR with a telehealth platform with analytics and reporting capabilities, such as OnCall by Qualifacts, means you can create a data-driven feedback loop to share with staff. This feedback might include how and when patients engage, which digital interactions are most effective, how many appointments have been completed, changes in scheduling trends, and more. These insights help create moments for recognition, so that everyone can celebrate successes and discover opportunities to improve even more
There’s never been a more critical time for behavioral health organizations to tackle the complex challenges of employee engagement and retention. To attract and retain the people that are at the heart of the business, leaders should consider how technology can enable their retention strategy. Investments in improving the employee experience and increasing retention through technology create a powerful win for providers, staff, partners, and patients.