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Are Staffing Shortages Dissuading Healthcare Access for Patients?

Half of patients don’t visit the hospital because staffing shortages, and the patient safety lapses that could come with them, dissuade healthcare access.

Half of US patients think hospitals need to up their nursing staff, with concerns about nurse and other staffing shortages dissuading healthcare access for some, according to a survey completed by Regina Corso Consulting on behalf of Global Healthcare Exchange (GHX).

Overall, 50 percent of patients say they avoid going to the hospital because they are worried about contracting COVID-19 or another virus and because of the staffing shortages plaguing the nation.

Staffing shortages have become a big problem in the US, with an April 2023 Health Affairs article noting that nursing lost about 100,000 workers in 2021. That amounts to a 40 percent year-over-year drop in staffing levels.

Those staffing shortages are starting to worry patients, who are concerned they won’t be able to access the right kind of care with the right kind of qualified provider. About a third said they are worried that they or a loved one will not see the right kind of medical provider because of staffing shortages. Respondents also expressed fears they will not get enough time with their doctor or nurse because of staffing shortages.

Around a third (36 percent) of respondents said they are worried about themselves or a loved one getting an infection when recovering in a healthcare setting, a patient safety issue that can be tied directly to staffing levels. Some research has shown that poor nurse staffing ratios can result in patient safety incidents.

Patients want healthcare organizations to hire more staff to create more confidence in clinical quality and patient safety. More than half (54 percent) said hospitals need more nurses, 48 percent said they need more support staff, and 46 percent said hospitals should add more doctors.

But fixing the provider shortage and therefore enabling better patient access won’t be as simple as making more job offers.

In March 2022, research from Incredible Health found that nurses are leaving medicine because they are burnt out, stressed out, and poorly compensated. Healthcare organizations will need to offer better incentives to attract more talent and retain the workers they still have.

In addition to staffing shortages, patients are worried about the threats of violence some healthcare organizations have received since the start of the pandemic. There have been some well-documented threats made against healthcare providers advocating for pandemic restrictions, like masking or vaccines.

More recently, children’s hospitals across the country have received threats because they provide transgender healthcare.

Four in 10 (39 percent) of survey respondents said they avoid going to the hospital because they are concerned about that violence. Another 70 percent said healthcare organizations should invest in better physical security protocols to make patients and their providers safer.

Healthcare is experiencing an industry shift, with patient relationships with the industry evolving after the pandemic. Patients are taking on the role of consumer, but certain factors, like staffing and personal safety, have altered how they access healthcare. Organization leaders need to consider all of these shifting trends as they continue to enable patient access to care.

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