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    Colleen Luckett
    Colleen Luckett, MA

    The ongoing challenges in hiring clinical and administrative staff in medical practices often leaves people leaders with a major dilemma: Finding the time and resources to train, re-skill and upskill existing staff to manage the fast-paced and evolving duties across a facility.

    But to build the right programs and commit resources to them, healthcare leaders must first understand the need — and not all of them use an effective starting strategy. A March 19, 2024, MGMA Stat poll found that 16% of medical groups use skill gap assessments, compared to 78% that do not. The poll had 345 applicable responses.

    Among leaders who conduct skill gap assessments, several mentioned they evaluate all roles within their organizations. One respondent assigns mentors to new hires, with skill gap assessments at 30, 90 and 180 days. When these aseessments are used in areas such as revenue cycle staff, top benefits include lower A/R, “as payers are being loaded more accurately, and claims are processing much faster.” Another incorporates personality traits into assessments to understand employees’ learning styles and feedback preferences, thus aiding leaders in quickly familiarizing themselves with their staff members.

    Other respondents reported zeroing in on clinical staff with assessments —  including nurses, medical assistants (MAs), and various specialized roles — yielding benefits like reduced patient harm, increased staff engagement, and ensuring quality patient care.

    Despite most respondents not performing skill gap assessments, they noted that other strategies for professional development are in place, such as:

    • Ongoing training, continuing education, and educational paid programs: This includes offerings like webinars, 1-hour weekly education sessions, and online learning resources, alongside continuing education reimbursement.
    • Cross-training and quarterly competency testing: This approach not only diversifies the skill sets within the team but also ensures that staff maintain and improve their competencies over time.
    • Supporting certification acquisition, maintenance, and offering tuition reimbursement: Also including opportunities for staff to attend educational workshops, seminars, local and national conferences, and specific training like becoming a hearing instrument specialist or audio techs.

    Upskilling the healthcare workforce

    In their recent 2024 MGMA Summit session, “Performing Skill Gap Assessment for Leaders and Employees,” MGMA consultants Shawntea “Taya” Gordon, Chief Revenue Cycle Officer, H4 Technology, and Kem Tolliver, President, Medical Revenue Cycle Specialists, stressed the importance of assessing, identifying and overcoming skill gaps to ensure high levels of patient care, as well as efficient healthcare delivery and professional development.

    While healthcare professionals gain valuable experience as they progress through various roles, this advancement can also lead to significant gaps in the knowledge and skills crucial for their current positions. "When we look at this gap — this missing piece — that is the gap between what we've learned how to do versus what our job role needs for us to accomplish,” Gordon noted, pointing to billing errors — especially those with missing information — as an example of an operational inefficiency originating at the front desk.

    These issues often stem from a lack of understanding among front desk staff about how claims are processed and paid, exposing a crucial area for targeted skill development. Expanding on operational inefficiencies caused by skill gaps, Tolliver also highlighted regulatory non-compliance, medical and charting errors, decreased revenue and higher job turnover.

    However, Gordon observed, "empowering your team begins with recognizing the gaps not as shortcomings but as opportunities for growth and leadership development," underscoring a constructive approach to skill gaps.

    Tolliver added that the desk audit is a crucial tool for understanding the day-to-day activities of employees. "Desk audits are a valuable tool, giving employees the chance to share their daily, weekly and monthly tasks,” she explained. “This allows them to speak in their own voice about what they do and what they encounter daily; you’ll be amazed at some of the key operational and workforce workflow information you get back."

    Tolliver added that “solving for skill gaps is an investment in our workforce. “When you think about the Quadruple Aim, that fourth aim is going to be care team experience, so giving our employees the tools they need to be successful is a part of our investment back into them."

    Tolliver suggested sharing bulletins and newsletters from MGMA and other sources as a way to “invest in” your employees while ensuring awareness beyond busy practice leaders. "We all know our emails can be inundated but sending on information like payer bulletins for A/R staff, coding bulletins for medical record documentation and pay reimbursement guidelines for front desk staff could be so valuable and is often overlooked," Tolliver noted.

    Check out these related MGMA resources:

    Additional strategies Tolliver suggested for assessing skill gaps include having regular one-on-one check-ins and granting employees individual memberships in professional healthcare organizations or associations. And despite noting their lack of popularity, she advocated for performance evaluations as a necessary marker, as well.

    Tolliver emphasized updating job descriptions to keep them relevant and to assess missing staff knowledge. “It's a really good idea,” she explained, “Especially at the beginning of each year or during organizational shifts to review job descriptions, to understand your organizational needs and make sure those job descriptions are displaying the needs you have at the time."

    An open-door policy and supportive environment in team discussions are both also very important to Tolliver and Gordon, which they said encourage staff to share their developmental needs without fear of judgment. “If you are trying to overcome skill gaps and drive an educated team, you have to have an open-door policy,” explained Gordon. “You have to promote transparency.”

    “That doesn’t mean you’re always available or share contents of private meetings,” she added. “An open-door policy means you are truly welcome and open to them and provide a safe space.”

    Gordon recommends using customizable assessment templates aligned with industry best practices to effectively monitor staff skill gaps throughout the evaluation phase. She emphasized that these templates can pinpoint developmental needs and enable targeted interventions, as well as structured, positive conversations about addressing identified skill gaps. “[These templates] are actionable, and you can immediately start implementing changes in your organization,” she added.

    Tolliver pointed out the necessity for practice leaders to create impactful training programs after the evaluation period is complete. She suggested these programs feature consumable, digestible modules for learners infused with various examples to clarify concepts, as well as use knowledge checks to ensure comprehension and retention. Additionally, she suggested utilizing mistakes and quiz results to pinpoint deficiencies.

    “When you're curating your own training programs, look at doing a task analysis,” Tolliver suggested. “So, compile the tasks your organization is struggling with, and then develop training programs based on those tasks."

    Access the following MGMA tool kit to help you get started on your assessment and training plan goals:

    Finally, in addition to supporting staff development, Tolliver suggested that leaders also invest in their own knowledge and skills. She acknowledged that leaders can't know everything but stressed that being proficient in essential concepts to effectively address skill gaps in their organizations is crucial.

    “Let's continue to promote honesty within our workforce by also being honest with ourselves about what our skill gaps — or potential skill gaps — could be,” she said. “So, making sure that we are filling our cups with knowledge, as well.”

    Colleen Luckett

    Written By

    Colleen Luckett, MA

    Colleen Luckett has an extensive background in publishing, content development, and marketing communications in various industries, including healthcare, education, law, telecommunications, and energy. Midcareer, she took a break to teach English as a Second Language for four years in Japan, after which she earned her master's degree with honors in multilingual education in 2020. She now writes and edits all kinds of content at MGMA. Have an idea for an MGMA Connections article or whitepaper? E-mail her

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