COVID-19 has created several challenges and opportunities for healthcare providers in Australia. These are some select issues, positive and negative, that we have observed over the past 18 months.
(1) Adoption of telehealth
The challenges of operating healthcare businesses in a COVID-19 environment meant providers had to adapt and implement digital tools that have been available for a long time but under-utilised. Physical separation between clinicians and patients was required to help reduce the risk of community transmission so telehealth services were offered as an alternative method of health care delivery.
Temporary government subsidies radically expanded access to telehealth under Medicare, as a result there was a substantial increase in the use of telehealth, particularly during stricter lockdowns.
This expansion is occurring globally, with Deloitte predicting that the percentage of video visits to doctors will rise to 5% globally in 2021, up from an estimated ~1% in 2019 (https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/media-releases/articles/telehealth-boom-australia-leads-way-commercialising-womens-sports-5g-health-risk-perception-wane-160321.html).
To facilitate successful phone and video services and a seamless patient experience, providers are investing in technology to integrate these services across their practice management systems.
It will be interesting to follow the uptake of telehealth services over the coming years and whether Government funding will continue to support the use of phone and video. Either way, providers are realising the benefits of having integrated platforms to deliver services and engage with their patients.
(2) Labour supply shortages
Significant labour supply challenges in the healthcare sector have been caused by:
- Government stimulus;
- a recovering economy;
- low unemployment (and expectations of unemployment reaching a low of 4.5% by 2022);
- increasing demand (both from pent up demand and ongoing structural growth);
- border restrictions and a lack of net migration.
Providers across multiple health segments (aged care, disability, private, public) are experiencing strong demand, but facing supply issues. Patients and clients are therefore missing out on receiving important clinical and/or social and community care services.
Healthcare organisations are now looking at ways to increase their access to staff through organic and inorganic initiatives.
Organically, organisations are establishing training colleges or building employment pathways for trainees and graduates and ramping up marketing efforts (traditional and digital) to drive recruitment efforts. However, it is one thing to ramp-up recruitment but if you are not retaining staff, you are continuously having to replace exiting employees…a costly exercise. Therefore, organisations are looking at ways to fine-tune recruitment and onboarding processes and better engage their workforce, both full time and casuals, with initiatives to create a stronger sense of community.
This is particularly important in a COVID-19 world where workforces, both in the field and in the office, are increasingly working remotely. Organisations that have managed to improve engagement and a sense of community are experiencing greater employee retention.
Additionally, organisations are turning to utilisation (hours per week) to drive increased labour supply. This is driven partly by increased engagement of the workforce, but also by shifting a larger percentage of casual workers into permanent part-time roles. This provides workers with greater job security and a sense of belonging and provides employers with a more stable workforce where utilisation can be increased. Retention is also therefore improved as casual workers have a higher turnover rate compared to permanent part time employees.
Pemba recently worked with one of our partner companies to implement several labour supply initiatives including a behavioural science tool with an aim to improve the average length of an employee’s tenure by improving the recruitment selection process.
In addition to organic labour supply initiatives, organisations are turning to M&A to secure talent. This is particularly true for companies thinking about expanding into new geographies or adjacent verticals. Executing an expansion into new geographies by investing in greenfield locations (i.e., new offices and people) can be successful but can take longer to ramp up. In growing markets where labour supply is challenging a greenfield strategy can be particularly hard to execute, as established providers in those markets have the all-important ingredient of qualified workers. Acquiring or merging with a business in another geography gives you access to a pool of talent which can be utilised to expand your own services and the infrastructure to deliver your services.
Pemba assisted our disability services organisation partner company, ONCALL Group Australia, in expanding into Queensland by merging with Ablecare, a leading disability services organisation in Queensland with close to 400 employees. This provided ONCALL Group Australia with a large workforce to grow its services in the local Queensland market and Ablecare with the infrastructure and resources to continue its successful growth trajectory.
A combination of organic initiatives and selective M&A can help organisations overcome labour supply issues and bring forward growth plans.
(3) Managing remote workforces
I touched on managing a remote workforce earlier in relation to employee engagement and retention. Managing remote workforces is not a new concept in healthcare as many healthcare organisations have large mobile workforces. COVID-19 has led to an increased level of remote working across all sectors. Technologies that assist with the management of remote workforces is critical from an efficiency, quality, and compliance point of view.
Capturing real time information at the point of service delivery, through technology, is helping healthcare organisations monitor remote workforces and manage quality and governance. Secure communications platforms are also helping teams better coordinate and manage their patients and clients.
Healthcare providers need to continuously monitor new technologies that facilitate better decentralised service delivery and ensure those technologies are secure from a patient/client data point of view.
These technologies will continue to play a significant role in managing risks in workforce management and patient/client service delivery and provide organisations with better real time insights to optimise performance.
If you are experiencing any of the above challenges and/or opportunities (or any other!), or would just like to chat through, I would love to hear from you.