Sep 02 2021

What to Expect with Continuing Remote Work in Healthcare

Here are three takeaways for healthcare systems with employees working remotely through the end of the year and beyond.

Many healthcare systems across the U.S. are still operating with some remote workers as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches well into its second year.

In New Hampshire, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center plans for staff in the IT, human resources and finance departments to continue at least some remote work after the pandemic. In Pennsylvania, Allegheny Health Network and Allegheny Valley Hospital also have flexible working arrangements for certain departments.

According to a PwC US Pulse Survey conducted earlier this month, 32 percent of healthcare leaders strongly agreed that employee preference was top of mind when developing return-to-office plans. Though employees have responded positively to more flexible work capabilities, what should healthcare organizations expect for the future?

1. Apply Lessons Learned to Plan Ahead

Many healthcare organizations had to scramble to implement work-from-home policies and scale up capabilities when pandemic restrictions rolled out in spring 2020. IT teams had to contend with the limits of their security as employees worked remotely, many alongside family members who had to do virtual learning or work from home as well.  

DISCOVER: SDP vs. VPN? What’s best for remote work?

But for healthcare systems that had already planned for remote work before the pandemic, the transition had fewer hiccups. For example, New York-based Northwell Health already had a department poised for remote work to prepare for any extreme weather events, so when the pandemic hit, it was a matter of increasing capacity and extending that model to other areas of the organization.

Other areas of the industry offer helpful examples: The home healthcare sector already operates with a largely location-independent workforce. There’s a solid framework of nurses, physicians and other staff members who are fully involved in the home healthcare ecosystem — such as in-home patient documentation, using video to share wound care with remote physicians and relying on Software as a Service for staffing workflows — showing how a flexible industry-related workforce can operate.

2. Get Used to Adaptable Perimeters

Healthcare systems comprise more than just clinical workers — a realization that, for many, helped the transition to remote work. For example, marketing, HR and IT departments do not require onsite staffing.

Even some clinical work can be done remotely: Primary care video visits, virtual rounding and remote patient monitoring are just a few capabilities that bring the hospital to the home. 

Security has also evolved from reliance on on-premises technology to cloud-based solutions. There’s no need to manage a bring-your-own-device policy; devices no longer have to be controlled fully by the IT department.

READ MORE: Here are five ways to protect devices and data during remote work.

Instead, organizations can ensure security through cloud-based applications without taking over a user’s device. Security tools are transitioning to help manage multiple systems, whether they exist in a public cloud, a private cloud, as a SaaS-based solution or on-premises.

An increased reliance on remote work will ultimately transform the physical office space. Such spaces, formerly dedicated to employees who now work remotely, could be repurposed as revenue-generating sites; specialty clinics, for example, or outpatient imaging or exam rooms. Or, building leases could be allowed to expire to reduce operating costs.

Healthcare will continue to test the boundaries of organizational capabilities and care delivery as remote work expands in this industry.

3. Widen Your Recruiting Pool with Remote Work

The biggest impact customers have shared about the shift to remote work is the ability to recruit nationally, as the increase in remote roles means workers can be hired anywhere.

As long as they have reliable internet connectivity, candidates can seek jobs outside of their immediate geographical area. That flexibility also benefits employers, making it possible to hire the best qualified talent regardless of location.

Through the end of 2021 and into next year, healthcare organizations will continue to invest in building out their remote work solution so that they're prepared for the next health crisis. As organizations land on some form of a hybrid model, they’ll find ways to increase financial performance and improve employee satisfaction.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.

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