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Healthcare Reform and an Aging Population: How To Meet The Demand

This is a guest post by David Hill, senior director at CompHealth Locum Tenens

The full impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act  (PPACA) won’t be known for years to come, but most agree that the demand for the services of healthcare workers will increase. This is on top of the already-increasing demand for healthcare services by an aging population.

How we meet this demand in the short-term as the new law’s many provisions make staged entrances, and in the long-term as we move towards universal coverage presents many challenges. Of one thing we can be certain: healthcare organization staffing plans must be flexible enough to meet this demand while providing excellent care to every patient.

First, where will the demand be? Many initial reports suggested that the newly-insured would have greater-than-average health problems due to neglect, which would lead to highest demand for services in inpatient settings, but this may not be the case. Medicare today already covers virtually the entire 65+ age population. Most of the 32 million people who will become covered under the new healthcare reform by 2014 are younger and generally require less healthcare services.

Some researchers have suggested that this population may already be receiving 50 percent of the care they would receive when insured. This, combined with the trend of the younger population to use ambulatory care, suggests that outpatient services should see the greatest increase in demand from the new legislation.

Keep in mind that the new legislation is only one of many factors impacting healthcare demand. The aging demographic of our country is another significant contributor to the demand equation and its effects are expected to be unprecedented. The number of Americans age 65 and older will rise by more than 19 million to 54 million by 2020, according to the National Center For Health Workforce Analysis.

In 2000, older adults (65+) represented only 12.5 percent of the population. In 2050, that number is expected to increase to 20 percent. Older Americans typically require more inpatient care than younger Americans, so we must also plan for a demand shift towards inpatient services based on our nation’s demographics.

How will we meet this demand? Healthcare facilities and practices need to further leverage their current staff, and plan to meet changes in their individual demand schedules. Because physicians have a long educational trajectory, nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be required to meet the demand by performing to their highest education level.

The demand for nurse practitioners will also increase demand to backfill for RNs. Savvy healthcare employers have already increased efforts to keep students and experienced nurses, even though budgets are tight.

Even with strong retention programs, many medical facilities are finding challenges in maintaining adequate staffing to meet changing intermittent demand. Census fluctuations, facility projects and expansions, new service offerings, technology implementations, vacations, illness and recruiting to fill openings all contribute to the challenges of meeting the demand for healthcare services.

Many organizations have used temporary healthcare staffing services as a method to fill the gap. Temporary physicians, nurses, and allied health workers can be used to maintain staffing ratios and patient care standards in times when long-term placement is not possible, or in situations like vacation or leave coverage when a long-term solution is not needed.

While the future of healthcare is not crystal clear, it is clear that the demand for services will increase. Strategies that maximize the leverage available with current staff combined with solutions to meet intermittent needs will help to meet these increasing demands.

About Spencer Sutherland

Spencer Sutherland+ is the public relations manager at CompHealth and the editor of its blog. He also handles media outreach for CompHealth and CHG Healthcare Services.

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