Healthcare labor shortages have reached crisis levels. But while much attention — understandably so — goes toward clinician shortages, challenges in filling operational roles such as administrative support can also cause trouble.
Consider the sending and receiving of everyday forms and supplies. In general, it’s not something people think about systemically, but perhaps they should: According to a recent Pitney Bowes survey, 64% of healthcare executives said that mail and packages ship daily from their facility. And yet, roughly three in four also said that staff shortages had complicated their ability to complete these recurrent activities.
That can, in turn, jeopardize experiences when patients don’t receive needed medications, records or forms on time. Add in that 53% of healthcare leaders expect the volume of shipping and receiving to increase in the years ahead — partly because of remote monitoring and telehealth activities that extend care outside the clinic — and these gaps could become even more pronounced and problematic.
As the volume of these tasks outpaces the workforce available to perform them, organizations will need to streamline and automate their shipping while offsetting labor concerns. Here’s what one Pitney Bowes expert suggested health leaders think about when addressing this underprioritized issue:
Centralize and standardize shipping decisions
In this era of consolidation, many healthcare organizations are looking for ways to standardize. They’re operationalizing workflows such as scheduling, asset tracking and billing. But shipping? Not so much.
Pitney Bowes’ survey found that half of healthcare executives (51%) described their organization’s approach to shipping decisions, such as which carriers to use or where to buy postage, as mostly made by the department.
“That’s where a lot of other industries like retail were 10 years ago,” said Justin Laurenzi, director of product management at Pitney Bowes. “But over time, leaders realized the inefficiencies of doing it that way. It skyrocketed support costs and led to inconsistency in training and documentation. It also caused carrier issues and an inability to negotiate better rates.”
While hospitals differ from retailers, Laurenzi suggested that healthcare systems could still operationalize their shipping and receiving, or at least those demands that don’t require special handling, such as hazardous or cold-chain materials. Doing so starts with optimizing hospitals’ most precious resource: their people.
“Most systems benefit from having a single person, like a supply chain manager, take the lead around decisions regarding carriers, packaging and delivery speed,” he said. They can come in and templatize and ultimately explore more complex options around drop shipping, warehousing and other high-level workflows. With those shipping activities standardized, it stands to remove workflow and vendor redundancies so that everyone else can get back to high-value work, he added.
Make the most of multicarrier software
Nearly every carrier, such as FedEx or UPS, has an online tool to help healthcare staff manage the inflow and outflow of materials. But when you engage multiple carriers — and multiple systems — it can create software overload on already burned-out staff.
Laurenzi suggested that hospitals invest in so-called multicarrier software, which aggregates shipping rates, dates, tracking and other insights into a single tool.
“You don’t want to go in and train people on four to five different systems,” he said. “The goal is to make these workflows as streamlined as possible. With multicarrier software, you can simplify all shipping and receiving activities into one screen.”
EHR integrations, such as those that Pitney Bowes has with Epic and McKesson, can enhance that simplified experience. For example, such integrations could autopopulate the patient’s name and address for labels, or track packages directly from the record, Laurenzi added.
“We’re investing in these integrations so that healthcare staff shouldn’t have to sit there and manually type data in, or train employees on how to navigate multiple confusing screens,” he said. “They should be able to scan and move on their way.”
Predict and prepare for future shipping demands
If healthcare organizations are understaffed for today’s shipping demands, they may feel even more so in a future marked by medical devices, medications and monitoring equipment sent straight to patients’ doors. Engaging solutions such as Pitney Bowes’ that aggregate insights across carriers and departments can help identify usage trends, predict and forecast and prepare for these expected surges.
These efficiencies can help offset labor concerns, something nearly every hospital needs now more than ever. After all, the crisis of healthcare shortages won’t abate any time soon. Even seemingly minor optimizations — such as a centralized shipment strategy — could make a world of difference.