Following the trend of workers moving to cities for more opportunities, the same can be said for medical practices and hospitals struggling to find and keep staff. Rural communities continue to be perceived as a less attractive option for talent, which has led to a crisis of staffing. According to the Medical Economics, all health sectors have been feeling the strain as baby boomers are retiring, workers prioritize remote work when that’s not always possible for medical offices, and employees are expressing emotional difficulties and PTSD after the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural providers are seeing those same complications along with their own unique issues.

Why are rural providers not seen as attractive for employment?

There are a couple key reasons experts have identified as issues:

  • A larger workload with less staff
  • Less digital resources
  • Slower to evolve
  • Struggles taking time off
  • Less investment in training due to time constraints

How can rural providers address these concerns to increase recruitment and retention?

Invest in technology.

There is a wide array of medical-specific software and technologies available to providers. They allow the administrative duties of your staff to be streamlined so they spend less time on menial tasks. Financial incentives in the form of bonuses, achieved through a value-based Medicaid points system, can help providers pay for investments in technology and staff education. Examples of value-based solutions that assist in achieving higher payments include patient portals that use encrypted secure email. The tool allows direct provider to patient treatment while meeting the HIPAA security standards. For providers unable to afford the transition to costly EHR platforms, they could benefit from the use of cloud-based solutions. This could serve as an interim stop gap measure, or be sufficient on its own, to assist in making the transition from paper to electronic medical records. These small adjustments in technology can be deployed without a negative effect in quality of patient care and move the provider towards Medicaid value-based contracting, which will shift reimbursement from fee for service to value-based contracting.

Be open to telehealth.

The pandemic accelerated the growth of telehealth, but it was already set to become an industry standard in the future. For rural providers, it can be an invaluable resource. Patients are looking for the ease of virtual care, especially when it means they can save a long commute. Scheduling telehealth appointments for routine check-ins or inquiries saves everyone time. Telehealth services are especially helpful in the area of behavioral health, where there is a shortage of mental health providers and a need to provide comfort to first time users seeking mental health services. This allows patients to get access to mental health providers from their homes. Telehealth helps avoid the stigma factor that inhibits visits in rural places. Telehealth would also increase the potential for tapping into additional clinical expertise.

Review your processes.

When working with a smaller team, workers are handling more tasks and may be one of the few who perform certain duties. It’s important to have processes in place that outline what everyone does, whether it’s instructions for a certain task or reviewing the expectations of a position. Clinics should cross train staff to perform various duties such as registration, eligibility, referrals, authorizations, credentialing, coding, and billing. The benefit of having backups in place is that the day-to-day operations don’t suffer. Additionally, there is not an increase in errors when the main person in that role is out sick or on vacation. Having personnel cross-trained to backup others also increases their awareness of these processes.

Another solution: rural practices could hire physician assistants and other qualified healthcare professionals. They are paid a lower rate than primary physicians to reduce the workload of primary care physicians and can deliver certain types of patient care or assistance more efficiently and effectively. Additionally, these physician extenders could rotate with front desk staff to provide needed coverage or backup in administrative areas.

Prepare a list of benefits.

When interviewing or recruiting, assume the candidate will have some reservations and address them. Talk about the autonomy that would not be available at a larger practice or hospital. They will get to truly know their patients and feel a sense of accomplishment serving an area of need. Added benefits and incentives can help organizations recruit and retain employees. These may include:

  • Insurance benefits
  • Professional benefits
    • Coverage of malpractice insurance
    • Payment for licensure fees
    • Payment and time off for continuing education
  • Bonuses
    • Sign-on bonuses
    • Retention bonuses
    • Staff recruitment bonuses (i.e. a current staff member helps find a new staff member)
  • Other incentives (especially for rural and underserved areas)
    • Low-interest home loans
    • Relocation expenses
    • Practice set-up costs
    • Assistance with finding spousal employment
    • Assistance with locating daycare

Underserved locations may qualify for loan repayment, which can be a significant incentive in the recruitment of primary physicians. Offering loan repayment or forgiveness is critical in recruiting primary care physicians to practice in underserved areas. Many of those reviewing online job boards and websites are especially interested in this benefit.

Explore outsourcing options.

When staff are expressing concerns with burnout due to either emotional or task strain, it may be time to explore outsourcing options. Hiring outside contractors for administration or billing tasks improves your revenue cycle and productivity. When staff are less burdened by admin duties, they have more time to focus on the patient experience. Additionally, an outside consultant can help you improve your retention efforts.

Our experts specialize in helping rural providers identify concerns and find solutions in all areas they need. Read more about MedCycle Solution’s comprehensive list of services.