Right now, the global healthcare industry faces a worldwide staffing shortage that is roundly expected to worsen.
A combination of factors is to blame, some pandemic-related – including the tragic scale of COVID-related deaths among healthcare workers – and others structural.
In Europe, where I live, the impact of the shortage has already grown profound:
- In France, 30 per cent of hospital doctors — some 9,000 specialists — are missing in the public sector. The staffing shortage is severe enough that hospitals have closed more than 4,300 beds, and at times, have been forced to stop accepting patients in non-emergency departments.
- In Germany, 22,000 nursing positions are vacant (compared to 3,900 positions five years ago) and 57 per cent of hospitals report having to restrict services due to staff shortages.
- In Spain, the shortage has meant that nurses currently treat double and sometimes triple the number of patients recommended by the European Union.
Unfortunately, the data suggests that resolution is nowhere in sight; the World Health Organization projects a worldwide workforce shortage in 2030 of some 15 million healthcare workers.
Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that when we business leaders wring our hands over the crisis, we tend to speak about it foremost in economic terms.
Amid all the necessary business talk, I implore us to not lose sight of our true focus: the real-world impact this shortage is having on patient care.
Let me tell you about the impact on one such patient: my sister, Sylvie.
Patients Shouldn’t Have to Wait for Healthcare
Sylvie has a severe movement disorder called dystonia.
Due to her tremors, she can no longer drive, cook, or care for herself; indeed, she can hardly sleep.
One year ago, our family was offered a ray of hope in the form of a neurostimulator implanted into my sister’s brain, whose electrical pulses might reduce her symptoms.
However, the device that could ease my sister’s suffering cannot yet offer her relief, because her neurology appointments have been delayed indefinitely due to months-long waiting lists.
One time, when Sylvie actually managed to schedule an appointment and made the 90-minute trek to the hospital — a Herculean feat, given her condition – no one showed up to meet with her.
There was simply no one available. Meanwhile, my sister suffers.
Sadly, Sylvie is just one of an untold number of patients whose healthcare is in limbo.
In 2022, for example, the number of people on waiting lists for hospital treatments in the United Kingdom alone rose to a record 6.5 million.
Each of these patients is a life put on hold.
Patients are the reason why we do what we do – and they are the reason why we in MedTech must do our part to meet the moment with innovative solutions.
Digital Tools to Help Patients and Providers
The World Health Organization, in its recent report “Health and care workforce in Europe: Time to Act,” laid out ten various actions the healthcare industry must take in response to the staffing crisis.
Among their suggestions is to expand the use of digital tools that support the workforce – a solution which, I’m pleased to say, we at Boston Scientific have already embraced.
Based on some of our early successes in this space, I’d like to suggest three specific solutions to help patients right now.
Digital education platforms
A patient’s ability to understand their condition is crucial to increasing their confidence at every stage in their journey – and such health confidence is linked to better patient experiences and outcomes.
With fewer healthcare providers now available to guide patients, we are finding that patients are benefiting from online education platforms.
These high-quality, multimedia portals offer accessible, on-demand content tailored to a patient’s specific procedure or medical device, giving them the information and support they need, when they need it.
Real-time and on-demand technologies
The ability to monitor patients with chronic conditions via remote patient monitoring (RPM) is another exciting option that can help in this period of thin staffing.
These technologies – applied, for example, to a patient’s implanted defibrillator – allow providers to remotely track disease and symptom progression and then, based on changes in the patients’ condition, modify their care plans or intervene in a timely fashion.
(One of our technologies can even help accurately predict a patient’s heart failure weeks in advance.)
RPM holds the potential to not only reduce office visits and hospital admission rates, but also to enhance patient confidence, allowing them to go about their daily lives with less fear.
Remote case support
Various remote solutions can seamlessly deliver clinical and technical support to understaffed and overworked physicians before, during, and after a procedure.
Remote tech support accessed through an app, for example, allows an off-site technician to remotely prepare medical devices or equipment for use.
And amazingly, through cutting-edge remote case support, an expert clinician located anywhere in the world can now watch a procedure via Smart Glasses technology and offer guidance to the physician in real time, as though they were standing beside one another in the operating room.
Such technology was recently used to perform very first renal cryoablation cases in South Africa – supervised by an expert in Denmark – as well as for transcatheter aortic valve implantations in the UK’s Basildon Hospital.
No Easy Answers but One
The healthcare staffing shortage threatens to plague us for a long while and presents a challenging situation to which there are no simple answers.
But if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that the patient always comes first.
Guided by that core value, we in the medical device industry can use our unique position and tech knowledge to proactively assist patients who need our help – like my sister, Sylvie.