The pandemic is permanently changing the way businesses in all industries operate and how employees perform their jobs. That's especially true in healthcare, where attempts to reduce physical contact spurred the brisk adoption of telehealth, home health services and virtual platforms to help patients with appointments.
Analysts with McKinsey believe healthcare employers should rethink the roles and duties of their workers now if they haven't already, and can start by asking "how we work, where we work and what skills we need," said Shubham Singhal, a senior partner speaking virtually on Tuesday at the HIMSS annual conference in Las Vegas.
They also need to consider how to make front-line caregiving a more sustainable career, and how they'll leverage technology to accomplish that — all while the workforce suffers significant burnout spurring some to consider leaving the profession.
Within the next decade, administrative positions like receptionists and billing clerks are expected to largely be automated. Demand for workers in direct patient care roles will continue to grow, though some parts of those jobs will become automated as well.
Even before the pandemic, 36% of the activities performed by healthcare and social assistance workers had the potential for automation, according to a McKinsey Global Institute analysis. Some tasks though — namely less predictable ones front-line caregivers typically perform — can't be automated.
That's problematic for a workforce facing unprecedented burnout with rising cases of new COVID-19 variants.
"They just don't want to be on the ground anymore," Meredith Lapointe, a McKinsey partner said. In surveys with front-line caregivers, simply being able to use accrued vacation time came up as a frequent concern, she said.
But that also poses some opportunities for employers to use technology to give those employees more flexibility.
In the healthcare sector, about 25% of the workforce could work from home at least one day a week, according to McKinsey research.
"You might not be able to have someone consistently remote, but you might be able to create jobs that create some flexibility for those individuals," Lapointe said.
That could look like a nurse working four days a week at a hospital or clinic, then doing more administrative work like manning the nurse hotline or helping with virtual care management from somewhere remote.
Another trend exacerbated by the pandemic is how healthcare is orienting more around homes and communities rather than large physical plants.
Analysts predict that healthcare jobs, especially those directly facing patients, will shift to higher revenue growth sites of care and away from large hospitals and other facilities.
Revenue growth is expected to be highest post-pandemic for virtual care, retail clinics, outpatient behavioral health sites and ambulatory surgery centers.
The roles that remain in the next decade will also require some new skills from employees. Technological skills like basic computer work and research will be much more important, as will social emotional skills like empathy and leadership, experts said.