Vistria News

Doctors and nurses were there for us during COVID. Now it is our turn.

Commentary By The Vistria Group’s Mona Sutphen & Elizabeth Jurinka for Crain’s Forum on Physician Retention in Crain’s Chicago Business

We have so much we’d like to forget about the pandemic. But there are so many moments we should remember. Take the nightly quarantine clapping ritual. It was a spontaneous demonstration of gratitude to those doctors, nurses, allied health workers and first responders who were exhausted yet risked their own lives to save others. Intuitively, we understood that doctors and nurses were our main defense against a deadly virus without an antidote.   
Four years later and the clapping has long since stopped, and with it a daily reminder of the hard work and long hours medical professionals put in to safeguard our health. But despite the lapse in time, healthcare workers are still burned out. The grind, workforce shortages, and medical misinformation have led to an all-time low in morale and declining trust in our healthcare system. The former President of the American Medical Association recently sounded the alarm, noting that only 57% of practicing physicians would choose the career again if they were just starting out. It can be difficult getting access to a doctor in today’s environment. Imagine the challenge if there were 40% fewer physicians in the system. Government data validates this concern: by 2036 we won’t have enough physicians to meet demand and will have shortages in 30 of 35 specialties.  
It doesn’t have to be a doomsday scenario. A big part of the solution is for collaboration between the private and public sector; collaboration to train, support, and innovate in shoring up the healthcare workforce. The silver lining of the pandemic is that in spite of burnout among some mid-to-late career professionals, there is a renewed interest in healthcare as a profession, with thousands of young people across the country raising their hands and applying to medical schools, nursing schools and allied health training programs.   
So, if labor supply is not the problem, then what is? First, administrative barriers to entry remain unnecessarily complex and differ from state to state. Yet new instruction techniques like training on-site and the use of virtual reality, can speed up the time it takes to train a new doctor, nurse, or allied health professional without risk to patient safety.    
Second, it’s not enough to train doctors and nurses. Adapting pre-COVID operations to a post-COVID reality is essential to stem the tide of worker burnout. Creating flexible schedules, superior support services and continued opportunity for training and advancement will be table stakes to achieve the aims of better outcomes and better experience, at lower cost.      
A third challenge is where care is being delivered. Embracing the home as the focal point of care delivery, particularly for patients who can – and want – to remain in place will help reduce the burden on overstretched healthcare workers. Keeping patients out of hospitals while managing their complex needs with the support of family and community is a win-win for the patient, their doctor, and the entire system. It also happens to be far more cost-effective too, helping to ensure the right resources get to the right patients.  
Facilitating opportunities for all providers – from nurses to the most specialized physicians – to operate at the top of their licenses and to prioritize the most appropriate setting of care for the best patient outcome doesn’t seem like rocket science. But we have yet to crack the code.   
What will it take? These practical challenges speak to what seems to be existential: from entry level to advanced nursing, we lack an “all-hands” approach to the task. This is the moment to shake up conventional practice and chart a new course. In fact, the best thing about America is our track record of seizing innovation and opportunity to solve complex challenges. We must continue to meet the moment and scale proven solutions that will advance our healthcare system. Otherwise, we’re just clapping. 

Mona Sutphen is Partner, Head Of Investment Strategies at The Vistria Group. Elizabeth Jurinka is Operating Director, Healthcare Policy, Vistria PRG.

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