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The future of work in health care: When talent and technology join forces

The nature of work across almost every industry is being disrupted by rapidly evolving digital technology – driving increased automation, affecting the proximity of where work is performed, and giving rise to new and open talent models. According to a recent study, approximately 47% of jobs could be automated in the next twenty years. With the current rate of change, that day could arrive even sooner. The art of the possible for the future of work cannot be ignored. With so much change in the air, many health care systems are understandably apprehensive about how to define, pursue, and leverage the future of work.

What stands in the way of more rapid progress in the move toward augmenting today’s health care clinical and administrative workforce? One factor may be that many leaders of health care provider organizations anticipate that the scale and pace of change will overwhelm their workforce and compound current talent issues such as a shortage of nurses and a burned-out physician population. What these executives may not be considering is that technology-fueled shifts in the nature of work represent a tremendous opportunity to help resolve today’s challenges and build tomorrow’s capabilities.

One hundred percent of providers surveyed in the 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends report say they plan to make significant progress in adopting cognitive and AI technologies in the next three to five years. Additionally, 33 percent say they consider it a priority to develop employees so they can work side-by-side with robots; as a result of those workflow enhancing applications, individuals can and will need to take on more advanced skills. However, despite a clear focus on emergent technologies, none of the providers surveyed responded that they have made significant progress in adopting these technologies.

It’s time for health care provider organizations to focus on adoption, and make talent and technology “join forces” instead of burdening or competing with one another.

To begin, organizations will need to assess the trajectory of specific jobs and workflows, evaluating the factors that combine to operate those jobs and workflows and how they can be re-envisioned by employing enabling technologies and new talent models:

  • Physical proximity: Must this job happen in person or onsite? Does the physician, nurse, or other caregiver need to be present at the site of service delivery? What about the patient? Can the care or service be delivered virtually or in a location that has hard to find skillsets or more affordable labor?
  • Automation level: How much of the work is made up of tasks that can be delivered through robotics, cognitive intelligence, AI, or other technologies? What skill-based parts of the job must remain in human hands?  How can humans and robots work in concert with one another to optimize performance?
  • Talent category: Is this a full-time, in-house job? To what extent can different categories – such as contract, off-balance-sheet (e.g., external consultants), or crowdsourcing – accomplish this?

Innovative new solutions that can address present-day provider pain points and focus organizations on mission-critical activities to support the Quadruple Aim – enhance the patient experience, improve the health of populations, reduce the per capita cost, and enhance the care giver experience of health care – will spring from different combinations of technology and talent. Nurses could use digital technology, robotics, and other tools to redirect their time from rote administrative tasks toward “healing-touch activities” and decision-making, while minimizing potential costs and improving care related to human error resulting from manual activities, overwork, and lack of resources. Robotic support for lifting patients could reduce physical burdens and injuries. And an application-based crowdsourced scheduling software can enable more flexibility in shift management, reduce last-minute shift changes, and improve coverage.

In addition to easing current concerns, the future of work also represents a significant opportunity to evolve the ways in which care is delivered. For instance, health systems are beginning to take advantage of telemedicine technologies that enable virtual care. Changing the proximity of where care can be provided – remotely, in a patient’s home, or by specialists that are hundreds of miles from the patient’s location – allows certain clinicians to see more patients, provide care for more complex episodes of care, and serve populations across a wider geography, and in hard-to-reach locations. It also enables clinicians to “practice to the top of their license” and spend more time doing impactful and fulfilling work.

As health care systems develop their 2025 workforce strategies, adopting an exponential mindset is paramount. We should consider each part of the workforce evolving not along a single linear path, but in response to a collection of forces. Rather than fearing this wave of change as an overwhelming challenge, together we can proactively seek opportunities for augmentation in clinical workflows; pinpoint where clinicians, patients, and their families will benefit from new technologies; identify how alternative talent models can reduce burnout; and expand locations where care is delivered for a better served population.

Author bio

Jennifer, principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP, is the national leader of our Health Care Provider Human Capital practice. She is a key advisor to Health Care System executives, providing organizational insights to support core business strategies. One of her key strengths is helping health care leaders transform their organizations to execute strategies for growth, to reduce costs, or improve patient outcomes. Jennifer leverages analytics as the foundation with a clear focus on impact.