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The Future of Health Professionals Workforce Supply and Demand

On February 7, 2013 the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) Health Project hosted a teleconference briefing, “The Future of Health Professional Workforce Supply and Demand.” This briefing highlighted the release of two health professional workforce reports: The Complexities of National Health Care Workforce Planning, which focused on supply issues, and Better Health Care Worker Demand Projections: A Twenty-First Century Approach, which focused on demand issues. These reports represent collaboration between BPC and DCHS, and were developed using rigorous research and analysis from DCHS and the expertise and guidance offered by BPC’s Health Professional Workforce Initiative Expert Advisory Panel.

The teleconference featured expert panelists including:

  • Paul Keckley, Ph.D., Executive Director, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions (DCHS)
  • Kavita Patel, M.D., M.S.H.S., Co-Chair, Bipartisan Policy Center Health Professional Workforce Initiative and Managing Director for Clinical Transformation and Delivery, Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform
  • Sheryl Coughlin Ph.D., M.H.A., Head of Research, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions

Specifically, the teleconference focused on the need to better understand our health care professional workforce and to develop a national strategy that will lead to high quality, effective care delivery. The panelists offered their unique perspective on workforce trends, the impact of the reports, and potential next steps. Some of the highlights from their discussion are included below.

The importance of improving workforce supply and demand:

  • Currently, our health care system is costly and highly labor intensive. Dr. Keckley and DCHS are interested and invested in assessing what changes could bring substantial improvements to the workforce.
  • DCHS is considering the ways in which changes in incentives, changes in insurance and advances in technology will shape and define the future of the health care workforce, and ultimately create a more rational workforce that fits both public and private sector needs.

Key findings from the reports:

  • Dr. Coughlin provided an overview of the content and implications of the reports, which examined a range of supply and demand issues for health care professionals through 2020.
  • One of the key findings from the supply report is the lack of comprehensive and consistent data that can be used to explain the current supply landscape. To address this unmet need, we must develop a long term strategy and framework across all relevant areas of the workforce, including policy, physicians, nurses, other professionals, and the public and private sectors.
  • Dr. Coughlin also noted that BPC and DCHS reports included data for a variety of non-physician health professionals, in recognition of their growing roles in both the public and private sector. This inclusive look at the landscape of workforce supply makes the reports relatively unique – current data is often physician focused.
  • The demand report also found a great need for more comprehensive and thorough data collection and analysis going forward. Dr. Coughlin explained that the reports begin to articulate a path forward for a new demand methodology, but much work remains to be done. The demand report is a starting point, intended to inform the debate and promote discussion.
  • Translating current literature about supply and demand into specific numbers to include in the reports was a struggle, said Dr. Patel, as very little research synthesis has been performed. This lack of synthesis was a surprise on the supply side but an even greater shock on the demand side.

How to develop a national workforce strategy:

  • Dr. Patel mentioned the importance of strategic application of resources to this problem. Federal investments in our health professional workforce could help lead to better, clearer numbers and a direction for the development of a national strategy.
  • Dr. Patel also emphasized the need for a strategy that is developed both inside and outside of the federal government, using entities that understand the complexities, needs and motivation of the workforce.
  • Dr. Keckley stressed the importance of private sector investment in workforce development, a possibility he said is often overlooked by think tanks and academics. Employers in particular are likely to be are interested in substantial reforms that will lead to a stronger workforce. Public-private sector collaboration on this issue could lead to quicker results and more innovative thinking.

For more information, check out this BPC issue brief summarizing the supply and demand reports. Read more about the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions here.

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