Skip To Navigation Skip To Content Skip To Footer
    Insight Article
    Home > Articles > Article
    Shirley H. Lee
    Shirley H. Lee, CRNP-FNP, MPH
    As nurses and physicians leave healthcare at record rates, another workforce shortage threatens specialty care outcomes: Medical assistants (MAs) and other lower-wage healthcare workers.

    Many experienced medical assistants are leaving healthcare after decades of work during the “Great Resignation”— and physician practices across the nation struggle to replace them. A May 2021 MGMA Stat poll found 88% of practice leaders reported difficulty in recruiting MAs. It’s also harder to find good candidates, practice leaders say, making it doubly important that practices hang onto the talent they have.

    What’s prompting these workers to leave the profession? Burnout, work overload and fear of exposing family members to the coronavirus rank among the top stressors for healthcare professionals, one study showed. These stressors impact MAs, nursing assistants, social workers, inpatient workers, women and people of color even more acutely, researchers found.

    However, the odds of burnout are 40% lower among those who feel valued by their organizations. For specialty practices, which depend on specialty-specific expertise across positions, this points to an opportunity to retain talent by strengthening satisfaction.

    Caring for the care team

    While patient-physician interaction remains at the heart of specialty care, positive outcomes depend on communication with other members of the care team, all of whom have varying levels of training and knowledge. Here are three ways that specialty practices can reinvigorate care team members while eliminating gaps in care that threaten outcomes.

    1. Strengthen team members’ sense of purpose

    Numerous studies point to the positive effects of a sense of purpose on a person’s mental and physical health. In the study referenced above, more than a third of physicians reported that the pandemic restored their sense of purpose. For MAs, one way to help team members feel more satisfied in their work is to invest in tools that help deepen their contributions to patient care.

    One approach that is gaining steam: the use of disease-specific, tech-enabled care pathways that empower MAs to help identify patients who need expedited care. Such innovations provide specialty-specific support to ensure MAs ask the right questions to identify whether a patient is at risk. When areas of concern are detected, these tools prompt MAs to alert physicians and patients of the need for follow up.

    For one Maryland urology practice, use of disease-specific, care-enabled pathways to support MAs in their work made a substantial impact on patient care and efficiency. Time spent by physicians reviewing patient data decreased by 10 to 15 minutes per patient, helping patients receive vital care sooner. “The patients love it, and it makes care conversations so easy,” one care coordinator says. “It feels good to be able to help patients.”

    2. Reimagine your approach to employee engagement

    Just as appealing to a team member’s sense of purpose when reinvigorating their passion for care, offering all employees the opportunity to provide peer-to-peer support helps everyone feel invested in their team’s welfare. It also builds deeper bonds among staff and provides the type of support that helps team members feel valued as human beings.

    For example, peer-to-peer support for team members experiencing a stressful reaction to a patient outcome — delivered in-person or virtually — can reduce feelings of burnout or stress among staff. Meanwhile, staff-initiated recognition for employees who go above and beyond enables all employees to create the workplace culture they crave while calling attention to team members’ contributions in times of crisis. Inviting employees to brainstorm ways to lighten the team’s mental load in the year ahead gives everyone a role and a voice — critical to improving professional satisfaction.

    3. Provide the infrastructure to meet patients’ needs safer, faster and with better outcomes

    Such investments lessen feelings of stress and burnout by giving team members a way to “control the chaos,” as one nurse leader describes today’s care environment. The best supports offer MAs and other professionals peace of mind and enable them to operate at the top of their license.

    Create an infrastructure that makes it easy for team members to follow evidence-based care pathways. At a Los Angeles-based urology clinic, use of a urology-specific care navigation platform enabled MAs to help identify 125 patients with chronic cystitis who could benefit from a remote cystitis clinic. When patients in this group experience symptoms of infection, MAs order lab tests, including one that can identify microbial DNA and RNA in the urine. It’s an approach that is more effective in treating UTIs in patients with cystitis than a traditional dipstick analysis or urine culture. Within 12 months, the remote clinic helped 110 patients avoid urgent or emergency care, reducing costs of care while generating $69,000 in chronic care management revenue.

    Enhancing the care team experience

    Six out of 10 healthcare professionals struggle to cope with the mental weight of delivering care during the pandemic — and three in 10 have considered leaving the profession because of it, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found. By exploring innovative ways to reinvigorate team members’ sense of purpose, specialty care practices can increase satisfaction and protect their ability to provide advanced care.
    Shirley H. Lee

    Written By

    Shirley H. Lee, CRNP-FNP, MPH

    Shirley H. Lee, CRNP-FNP, MPH, is vice president of clinical strategy for Preveta, a care coordination platform for specialty care. She is also the director of a patient navigation program and a nurse practitioner for the Greater Los Angeles Division of Genesis Healthcare Partners, P.C. Lee is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

    Explore Related Content

    More Insight Articles

    Ask MGMA
    Reload 🗙