Workforce of the Future

September 2014

We may be doing our jobs via text message in ten years…but from where? The answer, according to UNAC/UHCP Vice President Denise Duncan, RN, is another question: will it be from another state, country or from home? There are many exciting changes afoot.

“Doctors in some health settings are already asking for patients to send in digital pictures of their throats in order to get an antibiotic prescription, or asking for pictures of wounds or moles to dispense advice,” she tells us. “But while we are seeing technology moving health care practices, from Skype doctor’s sessions to diagnosis via emailed photos, the real trend is a move toward care coordination.”

Through the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, health care facilities are using care coordination models or teams. We already see this model in use in some hospital systems. In the next few years, different hospitals will experiment with care coordination, until they hit upon a model that works best for them. UNAC/UHCP will push to be at the table when those decisions are made, so that we can be sure our patients are the first priority over cost.

While patient care is job one, what will the models of care look like in the future? In ten years will all health care professionals have staffing ratios like in-patient nurses do now? From medical techs to doctors, and including many nurses now who need ratios such as mental health nurses, all patients can benefit from limits on the number of patients to improve patient safety and quality of care. In a New York Times editorial on reduced payments to doctors, Dr. Sandeep Jauhar argues that new norms in health care, namely more patient appointments per day, drive up the cost of health care due to missed diagnoses and unnecessary tests and referrals. What the system makes up in speed, it loses in accuracy, and we all pay more in health care because of it.

While all of the above are happening as we speak, other variables defy prediction. For instance, the younger health care workers coming into the workplace have different expectations for work, including flexible work hours, freedom to be creative, constant use of technology and a preference for digital communication over face-to-face meetings. These would seem to be at odds with work in a hospital or clinic, but only time will tell how a generation of workers will impact the field. The other variable that we cannot predict is the impact of technology on how we diagnose and treat patients. Duncan and UNAC/UHCP will continue to watch, learn and report back.