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BPC Hosts Webinar on the Future of the U.S. Health Workforce

Experts discuss shifts in health professional workforce necessary to meet rapidly changing demand

On June 15, 2012, the BPC Health Project and Deloitte Center for Health Solutions hosted a collaborative webinar – A 21st Century Approach to Health Workforce Planning. The webinar examined how the ongoing transformation of the nation’s health care system will affect future demands for health care personnel. The webinar featured expert panelists including: Lisa Bielamowicz, Managing Director of the Advisory Board Company; Peter Buerhaus, Chair of the National Health Care Workforce Commission; Sheryl Coughlin, Head of Research at the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions; and Donald Girard, Associate Dean for Graduate and Continuing Medical Education at the Oregon Health & Science University. The panel was moderated by Kavita Patel, Co-Chair of the BPC’s Health Professional Workforce Initiative and Managing Director for Clinical Transformation and Delivery at the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform.

Each panelist addressed a unique aspect of workforce supply and demand. Some highlights from the discussion are below:

Along with existing complexities underlying current models of national workforce planning, there is an absence of a consistent, comprehensive overview of the full, active health care workforce.

  • There is a need to establish a common platform for future analysis of supply and demand workforce data through the development of a standard model. This involves both efforts to produce more robust workforce data encompassing the short and long-term view and addressing new sources of health care demand over the coming years.
  • Panelist Sheryl Coughlin stated that a national approach could “incorporate the experiences and expertise of such groups as educators, the delivery system leaders, health care professionals, policy experts, and federal, state, and local policymakers.”


The evolution of health care needs should be addressed as policies and demographic trends increase the demand for physicians and registered nurses over the next two decades.

  • Baby boomers are approximately one-third of our current nursing workforce. Peter Buerhaus discussed the nursing workforce, and illuminated the reality that the ability to meet higher levels of demand will be further strained as the baby boomer generation retires. In addition, many workers who temporarily filled nursing vacancies during the recession will likely withdraw as the economy recovers, further widening the supply-demand gap.
  • Similar demand concerns exist for physicians. Most U.S. medical graduates are moving towards specialty residencies, leaving primary care residencies to be increasingly filled by international medical graduates. Consequently, there is an impending “plug the leak” emergency of primary care physician brain drain. Donald Girard discussed this key element, stressing the growing demand created by the estimated 30 million newly insured citizens under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Finally, the current health care workforce exists in a state of suspended animation and must transform to address changing needs and resources.

  • While present systems are designed for a fee-for-service environment, health personnel recognize that within 5-10 years the country will likely be operating in a new delivery system which promotes care value over volume. Many health workers understand the health workforce must look measurably different in this new value based environment. However, they do not know how, or when, to switch.
  • To support the move toward value driven care, panelist participant, Lisa Bielamowicz, suggested health care providers take the following steps to move towards sustainable, accountable care:
  1. Secure physician alignment through a high-performance physician network;
  2. Finance the transition through next-generation payment models;
  3. Integrate the delivery system with streamlined acute care episodes and proactive chronic care delivery; and
  4. Advance patient activation through self-directed patient care.

This webinar is a part of the BPC Health Project’s efforts to analyze and respond to key issues relating to our nation’s health professional workforce. To ensure a sustainable future for our health workforce, we should strive for a more rigorous understanding of the underlying factors that drive workforce trends, and develop a comprehensive national workforce planning strategy.

2012-07-13 00:00:00

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