Hospitals and health systems are seeing some signs of stabilization in 2023 following an extremely difficult year in 2022. Workforce-related challenges persist, however, keeping costs high and contributing to issues with patient access to care. The percentage of respondents who report that they have run at less than full capacity at some time over the past year because of staffing shortages, for example, remains at 66%, unchanged from last year’s State of Healthcare Performance Improvement report. A solid majority of respondents (63%) are struggling to meet demand within their physician enterprise, with patient concerns or complaints about access to physician clinics increasing at approximately one-third (32%) of respondent organizations.
Most organizations are pursuing multiple strategies to recruit and retain staff. They recognize, however, that this is an issue that will take years to resolve—especially with respect to nursing staff—as an older generation of talent moves toward retirement and current educational pipelines fail to generate an adequate flow of new talent. One bright spot is utilization of contract labor, which is decreasing at almost two-thirds (60%) of respondent organizations.
Many of the organizations we interviewed have recovered from a year of negative or breakeven operating margins. But most foresee a slow climb back to the 3% to 4% operating margins that help ensure long-term sustainability, with adequate resources to make needed investments for the future. Difficulties with financial performance are reflected in the relatively high percentage of respondents (24%) who report that their organization has faced challenges with respect to debt covenants over the past year, and the even higher percentage (34%) who foresee challenges over the coming year. Interviews confirmed that some of these challenges were “near misses,” not an actual breach of covenants, but hitting key metrics such as days cash on hand and debt service coverage ratios remains a concern.
As in last year’s survey, an increased rate of claims denials has had the most significant impact on revenue cycle over the past year. Interviewees confirm that this is an issue across health plans, but it seems particularly acute in markets with a higher penetration of Medicare Advantage plans. A significant percentage of respondents also report a lower percentage of commercially insured patients (52%), an increase in bad debt and uncompensated care (50%), and a higher percentage of Medicaid patients (47%).
Supply chain issues are concentrated largely in distribution delays and raw product and sourcing availability. These issues are sometimes connected when difficulties sourcing raw materials result in distribution delays. The most common measures organizations are taking to mitigate these issues are defining approved vendor product substitutes (82%) and increasing inventory levels (57%). Also, as care delivery continues to migrate to outpatient settings, organizations are working to standardize supplies across their non-acute settings and align acute and non-acute ordering to the extent possible to secure volume discounts.
|98% of respondents are pursuing one or more recruitment and retention strategies
|90% have raised starting salaries or the minimum wage
|73% report an increased rate of claims denials
|71% are encountering distribution delays in their supply chain
|70% are boarding patients in the emergency department or post-anesthesia care unit because of a lack of staffing or bed capacity
|66% report that staffing shortages have required their organization to run at less than full capacity at some time over the past year
|63% are struggling to meet demand for patient access to their physician enterprise
|60% see decreasing utilization of contract labor at their organization
|44% report that inpatient volumes remain below pre-pandemic levels
|32% say that patients concerns or complaints about access to their physician enterprise are increasing
|24% have encountered debt covenant challenges during the past 12 months
|None of our respondents believe that their organization has fully optimized its use of the automation technologies in which it has already invested