How AI Promises to Solve Healthcare’s Staffing Crunch

Boost Efficiency and Bring Better Outcomes for Patients

By Jason Lockbaum, Senior Vice President, Healthcare Sales, ibex
LinkedIn: Jason Lockbaum
LinkedIn: ibex

The healthcare industry faces a severe staffing shortage. While the population is aging and demand for healthcare is rising, the number of qualified healthcare professionals is falling. It’s estimated that by 2026 over 6.5 million U.S. healthcare professionals will depart their jobs and just 1.9 million will be hired to replace them, resulting in a shortfall of over 4 million healthcare workers.

A shortage of staff impacts healthcare organizations in many ways. It means more work for existing staff and then, often, burnout. It means more limited care for patients and poorer outcomes. It means difficulties with workforce distribution and with sourcing staff who have the needed skills. Healthcare organizations in rural places are especially hard hit and many now can’t deliver equitable access to care.

All these challenges are severe and growing. But they can be addressed with technology solutions like artificial intelligence (AI). Indeed, AI promises to transform healthcare in the years ahead, not only easing staff shortages but boosting operational efficiency and improving care for patients.

AI provides relief across the board

Forward-looking healthcare organizations are already embracing an array of tech tools, not only to solve their staff shortages but to improve care delivery. The tools range from remote monitoring and telemedicine to automation and predictive analytics. They extend the reach of healthcare workers, ease administrative tasks and enhance workforce management.

AI is playing an increasing role in all these areas. Telemedicine, for instance, is vital to solving staff shortages. AI can help supercharge these efforts by extending access to remote care and monitoring. AI can also further reduce the need for patients to go to healthcare facilities in person, which eases the strain on healthcare workers. This is why it’s estimated that 90% of hospitals will rely on AI tools to do early diagnosis and remote monitoring by 2025.

Administrative tasks eat up a lot of time that healthcare professionals could better spend on care. AI takes on those tasks and frees up time for patients and providers alike. It can handle processes like scheduling appointments, medical coding and billing—and do it with greater efficiency and fewer errors. Indeed, AI can support or augment 40% of healthcare staff’s working hours.

Predictive analytics is key for healthcare organizations today. With it, they can forecast staffing needs and make sure they have adequate staffing levels to meet patient demand. Here too, AI can improve scheduling efficiency and resource allocation, while lowering the risk of understaffing or overstaffing. That’s why 72% of healthcare leaders worldwide say predictive analytics will have a positive impact on patient outcomes.

AI can also enable better care delivery with real-time insights. AI algorithms analyze patient data, medical literature and clinical guidelines to help providers with their diagnosis and treatment plan. These tools also save time. One study showed that sepsis care quickened significantly—nearly 2 hours faster to treatment with antibiotics—when assisted by AI clinical decision support.

AI can be a digital HR department

Another area where AI can have a dramatic impact is the HR department. In many ways, AI is reinventing HR and improving the employee experience. For instance, healthcare organizations can significantly enhance their recruitment and retention with AI-powered tools. These tools can analyze applications, resumes and other data to find candidates with the experience and skills to meet an organization’s needs, which optimizes recruitment and limits turnover.

AI can also help healthcare organizations deliver quality onboarding and training to ensure that new hires are prepared to do their job and that they’ll stay in their job long-term. Specifically, the technology can ensure smoother onboarding through training tailored to individuals. It can also deliver real-time support for new hires via AI assistants. And it can make learning safe and immersive with AI simulation technology.

AI-powered virtual assistants and chatbots are also key to a better HR employee and patient experience. These tools provide an automated, conversational experience for patients to access information and support. They make patient interactions easier and reduce the load on healthcare workers. These assistants and chatbots are always available and able to answer basic questions. They can also schedule appointments and furnish educational materials to patients.

Implementing AI brings benefits but also challenges

We’ve discussed the many benefits that AI brings to healthcare organizations, including ease of administrative tasks, better hiring and training, and improved patient monitoring and access to care. But there are also several significant challenges with AI in the healthcare environment.

First and foremost is privacy and security. AI raises concerns about privacy and security, particularly for patient data. Healthcare organizations must address these concerns with strong data-protection strategies and tight privacy standards for patient information.

Integration is another substantial hurdle. It’s always hard to integrate new technologies with legacy systems and workflows. Success demands planning, coordination and investment in interoperability tools.

And then there is the human side of it. Healthcare organizations can expect a certain level of pushback from their medical professionals. Healthcare workers may have legitimate concerns about the impact AI will have on their jobs, autonomy and productivity. These concerns must be addressed with change-management programs, sufficient training and robust communication.

The future is full of opportunity

As staffing shortages intensify, healthcare will demand more from AI—and the technology promises to meet that demand. It is evolving rapidly, with advances in machine learning, natural language processing and predictive analytics, and as it evolves it will get better at doing what healthcare needs it to do.

Better at hiring and training, better at workforce allocation, better at recruitment and retention. Also better at decision support, which will help healthcare providers make smarter decisions and deliver improved care to patients. As healthcare organizations deploy new AI solutions, they will not only address their staffing shortage, they will open up new horizons of efficiency, productivity and quality.