Staffing Shortages in Medical and Dental Practices: The Impact and the Solutions

Staffing shortages pose a significant challenge to medical and dental practices, becoming one of the most prevalent concerns among practices in recent years. Finding and retaining qualified staff has become increasingly difficult, particularly with administrative positions. The consequences of such staffing shortages can be far-reaching, negatively impacting a practice’s finances, quality of care, and overall patient satisfaction. The following will explore the effects of staffing shortages on medical and dental practices, shed light on the implications of these shortages, and offer potential solutions to lessen the financial impact of them.
Recently, discussion around staffing shortages in medical and dental practices has become increasingly prominent. In its September 2022 survey, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found that 58% of surveyed medical practices identified staffing as their primary concern heading into the new year. With staffing as a focus for medical practices and the WHO predicting a shortfall of 15 million healthcare workers worldwide in 2030, staffing concerns will only become more pressing among medical practices in the coming years. Practices are forced to work with less staff, which causes existing workers to become overworked and burnt out. Like medical practices, dental practices are also facing pressing staffing shortages. In a 2022 survey, the American Dental Association reported that 44% of dental practices identified staffing concerns as their biggest worry heading into 2023, with 42% stating that they urgently need to hire additional staff. Existing dental staff is also finding itself under significant stress and experiencing burnout due to the labor shortages in the field. Across medical and dental practices, staffing concerns can negatively impact quality of care and profitability.
While staffing shortages have remained prominent in general in medical practices, administrative and medical billing roles have been particularly short-staffed. MGMA found that 50% of hospitals and medical groups had open and unfilled positions in their Revenue Cycle Management teams. Being this short-staffed in medical billing can negatively affect a practice’s finances. In Healthcare Dive’s article on 2023 healthcare labor trends, the publication outlined a specific example, using Healthmark Regional Center in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. This center was understaffed in its RCM department, causing a delay in payroll obligations due to the practice not having the capital to cover staff paychecks. This, in turn, led the facility to be shut down for inpatients, emergency care, and other medical services. This outcome reflects a broader trend outlined in JP Morgan’s 2022 Trends in Healthcare Payments report, where 29% of providers reported reducing their patient visits in 2022 due to staffing shortages. Without ample staffing, particularly in administrative roles, medical practices are forced to decrease access to patient care. Thus, staffing shortages make it increasingly difficult for these practices to maintain the same quality of patient care, with management challenges and distractions moving attention away from patients which leaves less time and resources to devote to each patient. This situation can compromise the thoroughness of medical assessments and potentially lead to suboptimal health outcomes, despite the practice’s unwavering desire to deliver optimal care.
When exploring solutions to staffing shortages in the medical field, practices have resorted to various tactics. In 2022, Forbes examined this issue in an article titled “What it Takes to Curb the Healthcare Staffing Shortage.” The reporter found that “every healthcare role is in demand, and existing teams are stressed, overworked, and falling victim to burnout around the clock.” To curb this staffing shortage, the Forbes article recommended automation and outsourcing to “reduce staff burnout and improve the patient experience.” The article specifically noted the importance of filling administrative roles with automation and outsourcing, suggesting that, currently, “the administrative staff handles every step of the patient experience.” Forbes reported the benefits of this approach being that “healthcare professionals can refocus their time and energy on things like patient care.” By leveraging technology and outsourcing, medical practices can attend to patients and operate at full volume, increasing the practice’s chances of remaining profitable. In a similar article, MGMA reported that a common strategy for approaching staffing shortages is cutting back on appointment availability. The article notes that “it might be advantageous to limit or temporarily suspend walk-in appointments,” but this method can negatively affect a medical practice’s operations. Reducing appointment availability is not a long-term solution, as it only leads to decreased revenues and does little to address the more significant problem of staffing shortages. In this same article, MGMA recommends practices “automate and outsource” to address these shortages. They argue that outsourcing reduces staff burnout, allowing the practice to create a better work environment for existing staff members while keeping overhead labor costs at a more reasonable level. By automating and outsourcing administrative roles, medical practices can put themselves ahead of the curve to better withstand the labor shortage.
Like medical practices, dental practices also report staffing shortages in administrative roles. The American Dental Association found that nearly 25% of dental practices surveyed had to hire additional administrative staff heading into 2023, with 90% of practices stating that recruitment for these roles was “extremely competitive.” The skills necessary for these dental administrative roles can be challenging to find, given the specific knowledge and tools needed for the position, especially for dental billing, coding and the like. This causes recruitment competition for qualified candidates, making it more difficult for each dental practice to acquire the necessary talent at a reasonable cost. Even if a dental practice can acquire such employees with the right skill set, it can be challenging to retain that talent, given the high demand in the field. Similar to the medical industry, the dental field is scrambling to fill critical administrative roles to keep practices afloat.
Dental practices have employed several strategies to combat these staffing shortages. In January 2021, the California Dental Association found that 21% of dental practices had applied for a Second Draw Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan as an insulation against the business effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, while 38% were applying or will apply by the application deadline. Because of staffing shortages and reduced patient volume, it is well documented that dental practices, along with other types of businesses, have been forced to take out additional loans, putting themselves in a riskier financial position than they would like. Assuming more debt can be crippling for a dental practice, as it might allow the practice to stay afloat temporarily, but it does not enable it to thrive. As a cost-cutting alternative to taking out loans, an increasing number of dental practices have turned to outsourcing their dental billing, with particular emphasis on RCM partners who can demonstrate proven performance and even provide upfront capital for dental practices. This can give dental practices the financial resources necessary to make payroll and maintain the profitability essential to operating a practice at full volume. It also allows the practice to reduce overhead costs in administrative roles, enabling the dental practice to reduce overhead labor costs and not stress over the difficulties of administrative retention. Dental practices that partner with an RCM company can leverage all of these benefits, to restore their emphasis on patient care and reduce stress on their practices.
In conclusion, staffing shortages in medical and dental practices have far-reaching implications for both practices and patients. These shortages result in overworked staff, financial strain, reduced quality of care, and recruitment challenges. Addressing these shortages requires medical and dental practices to consider ways to reduce their overhead and add staffing in more creative ways. Outsourcing medical and dental billing is one proven way to overcome staffing shortages, which ultimately improves a practice’s financial health and its continued delivery of quality patient care.

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