How economic issues impact healthcare finances and medical staff

Berry Mathew

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How economic issues impact healthcare finances and medical staff

Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, countries across the world have been beset with a wide range of financial issues. Even as we emerged from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and rampant inflation have only added to the problem. It is no surprise, then, that some individuals, companies and even states are struggling with their finances. Inevitably, this has impacted the financial resources available in healthcare.

Indeed, after an initial cash boost to the system to cope with the demands of the pandemic, many countries have seen a series of cuts to their state healthcare systems that have left them struggling to cope under the strain. Private healthcare is also feeling the pinch, with some cash-strapped businesses eager to reduce or even cut employee medical plans. 

The overriding question is, where does this leave the healthcare industry and healthcare professionals? How can they cope with the inevitable spending cuts and potential staff shortages in their field? To what extent can doctors, nurses and administrators prepare for an uncertain future, and what other challenges do they face? Let’s take a look!

Familiar and unfamiliar problems

Tough economic times always pose a challenge for healthcare professionals, and the strength of feeling and intense pressure is particularly strong for those on the frontline. Some of these issues are all too familiar, and nurses, as key health workers, often bear the brunt of the problem. In many developed countries, staff shortages are now almost routine, particularly where the number of new trained nurses is falling. Regrettably, many nurses find themselves working longer hours and performing roles and tasks that previously would have been managed by additional staff. 

Yet even though nurses and other health professionals are in demand, economic pressures mean that wages are often stagnant or, in some cases, falling due to rampant inflation. This means that many of them find themselves working longer hours for lower pay, in real terms, than the pre-pandemic era. The increased tendency of state healthcare organizations to outsource to private companies is also a complication that only adds to the uncertainty.

There are also other trends likely to impact the medical landscape to a large extent. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI), for example, has the potential to upend the healthcare industry. AI is possibly capable of filling a wide range of tasks, from patient monitoring and medical imaging analysis to writing and issuing drug prescriptions. The increase of remote medical treatment, which emerged as a genuine alternative option to face-to-face consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic and looks set to stay, is another innovation that is changing the way medical care is provided. 

Tough times for health leaders

Unfortunately, the strain this heightened uncertainty and pressure places on medical professionals is often too great. In one US study, 93% of healthcare workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, and 76% exhaustion and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic. Often these problems are even more pronounced for those with a leadership role in the medical industry. Yet with so much focus on the wellbeing of the patient, the attitude is often to just ‘get your head down and battle through’.

Simultaneously, it is crucial that the people leading health institutions are equipped with the skills and knowledge to cope with even the hardest issues. It is true that some institutions work hard to offer in-house or paid training sessions so their staff can develop their knowledge and skills. Unfortunately, however, this type of investment in people is often the first thing to fall by the wayside when institutions are short of staff or cash. 

Perhaps this is why in recent years, more and more medical professionals have looked to complete a higher education course that can provide a broader understanding of how to operate and lead in difficult times. For healthcare administrators, there is the option to do an MHA (Master of Healthcare Administration) or MPH (Master of Public Health). There are also some extremely valuable courses available for nursing professionals. Taking a DNP ENL (Doctor of Nursing Practice, Executive Nurse Leadership) course, for instance, gives nurses the opportunity to extend their knowledge and develop skills that will help them manage these difficult situations to the very best of their ability.

These courses are particularly useful for those either currently in leadership positions or hoping to be in the future. The online course offered by the Louise Herrington School of Nursing at Baylor University, for example, covers several areas of expertise, including the possibility to examine business principles and skills related to the allocation and management of financial and human resources. In addition, students also look at current and future trends in healthcare economics and examine how to plan and implement structures that will improve nursing practices and promote optimal outcomes for patients, medical professionals, and healthcare institutions.

Rise to the challenge

No one can say that it is easy to work in healthcare right now. Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the biggest challenges in recent medical history and demanded a rapid response under extremely testing conditions. Now in its aftermath, we are faced with rising costs, financial uncertainty, and staffing issues globally. In addition, technological transformation is on the horizon with AI and other innovations that we are only just beginning to understand.

Yet healthcare has never been easy. Indeed, those who has been brave enough to take on the challenge of becoming a doctor or a nurse, of dedicating so much of their lives to helping people in need and dealing with the very toughest situations, must also be prepared for hardship. And despite the difficulties, the medical profession has probably never been so highly regarded and valued, at least by the public. 

Good healthcare, as we all know, is vital to individuals and society at large. As with any industry, one of the keys to success and good preparation is to ensure the people working in it are equipped with the right blend of knowledge, experience, and skills to manage any situation. If countries can do this, then they have every chance of success.