5 Strategies to Address the Primary Care Workforce Shortage

April 2, 2024

The recent release of the first national primary care scorecard from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) underscores the chronic lack of support for high-quality primary care in the United States. Despite variations in performance across states, it is clear that the primary care physician workforce is shrinking, and gaps in access to care appear to be growing.

In the traditional fee-for-service model, the outlook for addressing the primary care workforce crisis is grim, but value-based care and accountable care models offer viable solutions that can address workforce challenges.

Explore the intersection between value-based care and workforce retention in our white paper.

To combat burnout and improve staff retention, primary care practices can adopt these innovative strategies recommended by practice and health center administrators in our ACO network.

1. Leverage value-based care.

Transitioning to a value-based care model can alleviate burnout by shifting more time and attention from administrative tasks to patient care. “I believe the reason people have shied away from primary care is because of the burden of documentation,” Sohail Kwaja, Executive Director of Columbia Medical Practice, said. “Everything that is required of primary care is very time-consuming, and value-based care is changing that.” In addition, the revenue earned through value-based care programs can be reinvested in adding staff members or creating a bonus program for top performers, which can be an effective retention tool.

2. Focus on building a diverse staff.

Building a diverse staff not only enriches a practice’s culture but also enhances retention rates. By prioritizing cultural competency and inclusivity, practices can create a welcoming environment where staff feel valued – and patients of all backgrounds feel welcome. This can be particularly important for community health centers, which often serve a more diverse population. Engaging with community organizations and local colleges and universities can be a great first step in attracting a diverse pool of applicants. 

For Kwaja, diversity was critical to supporting Columbia, Md., a town that was purposely designed by founder James Rouse in 1967 to eliminate segregation. The staff at Columbia Medical Practice hail from more than a dozen countries, with many having worked there since the early 1980s. “Diversity is one of our strengths,” Kwaja said. “We try to match the community.”

3. Promote open communication.

Creating an environment of open communication, where staff feel heard and respected, is crucial for fostering a supportive workplace atmosphere. By encouraging transparent communication and actively soliciting feedback from staff, practices and health centers can address concerns proactively and strengthen staff morale and loyalty. “Last year, we had a revolving door of support staff, and I think what helped us to become successful was creating an open-door policy, where every voice matters,” said Shantelle Simpson, CEO of Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers (AMCHC). The clinic also adopted a framework of accountability to help each team member better understand their role and responsibilities.

4. Empower your team.

Empowering team members to operate at their highest skill level is crucial for optimizing productivity and fostering job fulfillment. Practices and health centers can provide ongoing training and professional development opportunities to equip staff with the skills and confidence needed to excel. This also helps team members understand the critical role they play in patient care and the success of the practice. “Staff are encouraged to practice at the top of their license. Each morning kicks off with the morning huddle so that all team members are familiar with the patients coming in that day,” Simpson said.

5. Offer flexible scheduling options.

Flexibility in scheduling is vital for accommodating staff’s personal and professional needs. Practices can offer flexible hours, telecommuting opportunities and other scheduling options to promote work-life balance and reduce stress. For example, AMCHC has found success in offering staff the choice of 8-hour or 10-hour shifts. “The pandemic taught us we have to be flexible and not so rigid with people’s schedules,” Simpson said. 

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