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    Chris Harrop
    Chris Harrop

    Finding the right support staff for medical group practices is still a major challenge for hiring managers across healthcare, and nearly half of those reporting success say it hasn’t been enough to keep pace with patient demand. 

    A July 21, 2023, MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders how their practices’ ratio of support staff to full-time-equivalent (FTE) physicians has changed in 2023. Only 30% reported an increase in support staff, while 70% told MGMA that their levels of support staff per doctor stayed the same (40%) or decreased (30%) so far this year. The poll had 374 applicable responses. 

    While the tight labor market is nothing new, the degree to which is impacting healthcare provider organizations remains worrisome: Among the practice leaders who said their support staffing levels stayed the same or increased, more than four in 10 (44%) said their current support staffing levels were not adequate to meet patient demand, compared to 56% who told MGMA they were at adequate staffing levels. 

    The practice leaders who saw a drop in their support staffing levels thus far in 2023 noted several major impacts from the continued difficulty to hire adequate support staff in their facilities: 

    • Lost productivity, which can lead to higher dissatisfaction or turnover among physicians 
    • Worsening morale and added strain on other staff doing extra work to make up for positions that are difficult to hire (e.g., registered nurses and medical assistants) 
    • More time spent by human resources and practice leaders in recruitment 
    • Worsening patient experience because of patient access impacts and decreased care coordination 
    • Increased expenses from temporary/contract workers to fill gaps  
    • Many practice leaders told MGMA that even their previous sources for temporary workers have become less reliable this year or that larger hospitals or systems have outbid them. 

    In addition to temporary/contract work, several respondents to the poll said their biggest response to these impacts — aside from budget cuts — has been to outsource certain roles within the practice, especially in billing and other revenue cycle support roles. 

    One practice leader told MGMA that the organization has “incentivized current staff to take on addition responsibilities” as they dealt with attrition. This approach allowed the group to eliminate one work-at-home position thanks to other workers taking on new responsibilities. 

    Benchmarks for support staff 

    Ahead of the upcoming release of the 2023 MGMA DataDive Cost and Revenue survey data set this summer, recent benchmarks for these crucial areas of hiring found that independent and hospital-owned practices were still struggling to get back to pre-pandemic levels. 

    The 2022 MGMA DataDive Cost and Revenue survey data found that primary care and surgical specialty practices were below their 2019 median total support staff per FTE physician, as detailed in last year’s summary data report

    While there were signs of improvement in last year’s benchmarking data for surgical and nonsurgical specialties, there were still pronounced impacts seen when looking at productivity data from the 2022 survey release, with all physician-owned practice types reporting lower total encounters per FTE physician compared to their pre-pandemic 2019 levels. Even hospital-owned primary care practices also saw their encounters still sitting 2.87% below the pre-pandemic benchmark. 

    Learn more 

    Watch the MGMA Insights newsletter in the coming weeks for the release of the summary data report for the 2023 MGMA DataDive Cost and Revenue survey data set, with industry-leading benchmarking data on productivity (as measured by total encounters and work RVUs), total medical revenue, operating expenses, support staffing levels and more.  


    Your contributions are vital to MGMA’s ongoing work to provide great resources, education and advocacy for medical group leaders. To be part of this effort, sign up for MGMA Stat and make your voice heard in our weekly polls. Sign up by texting “STAT” to 33550 or visit Polls will be sent to your phone via text message. 

    Chris Harrop

    Written By

    Chris Harrop

    A veteran journalist, Chris Harrop serves as managing editor of MGMA Connection magazine, MGMA Insights newsletter, MGMA Stat and several other publications across MGMA. Email him.

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