Looking Ahead at Workforce Needs to Care for the Patient of the Future

Clinical and technological advances continuously reshape healthcare services and the workforce that delivers them. In a cycle of creative destruction, new roles emerge while some legacy positions are reconsidered. Multiple drivers will also impact workforce needs in coming decades. Examples include an older and more diverse population, environmental impacts that disproportionately affect vulnerable communities, markedly different approaches to logistics, and the evolving role of technology.

Changing attitudes about work itself must factor into future workforce plans. Younger generations — the backbone of the future workforce — value flexibility, personal agency and mission alignment in the workplace. As such, their career ladders will look more like subway maps with many stops along the way, a testament to the opportunities that exist within the healthcare workforce of the future. Mentoring, reskilling and lifelong learning will be essential for them.

From this vantage point, a new set of functions and responsibilities are set to take shape.

Climate and logistics positions

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s ports faced a traffic jam of cargo ships and stacks of stranded shipping containers, some containing vital healthcare supplies. The backup led hospitals to reuse personal protective equipment (PPE) and stand up their own production, as Ochsner Health did with its SafeSource Direct partnership. The pain of a disrupted supply chain became evident as did the need for in-house logistics that mimic those of other industries.

Climate change will make such crises far more commonplace. It may also alter population distribution as some places become newly undesirable or even uninhabitable. Communities faced with a migration influx due to climate and other factors will require solutions for changing demographics, anemic agriculture and deteriorating population health status. Hospitals and health systems need to develop sophisticated logistical prowess as the weather introduces ongoing, unpredictable complications.

To confront this new normal, we anticipate the need for senior roles focused on logistics and climate-focused operations.

Senior-focused care teams

In the wealthiest nations, the population is living longer. According to a report by the Stanford Center on Longevity, as many as half of today’s 5-year-olds can expect to live to the age of 100. Longevity will age the American workforce, expand clinical care needs and further strain provider resources.

To address a senior population that now spans multiple decades, organizations will need assemble a multidisciplinary team with the ability to deliver care aligned with specific stages of the ageing process. This will be imperative to contend with heightened clinician demand and complexity without sacrificing quality.

Technology advocates

Healthcare is inherently personal. As such, we expect that technology will augment care teams as opposed to replace clinicians. Providers will benefit from expanded opportunities to offer high-touch care, a skill that’s impossible for technology to fully replicate. Adoption of AI and other technology will also enable top-of-license work across disciplines and help workers at all levels upskill into more specialized roles.

Additionally, shapeshifting of existing roles will span numerous functions, with the need increasing for some, and diminishing for others. Entirely new roles will emerge to combat unintended consequences of widespread tech deployment such as misinformation, data breaches and patient mistrust of data use.

Despite healthcare’s historical resistance to change, the landscape is rapidly evolving, and the time to act is now. Building analytic capabilities to expand and connect data assets, pivoting to a learning organization that embraces career development, and looking beyond healthcare for both wisdom and partnership opportunities all enable organizations to set the course for evolving their workforce.

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