How health systems can stop workers from leaving for the tech industry

Many healthcare workers would consider leaving the traditional medical field for tech, according to a Healthcare Brew survey.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

The tech world is increasingly appealing to healthcare workers who are burnt out and seeking flexibility in their careers.

In a recent Healthcare Brew survey of 1,100 healthcare professionals, 70% said they’d consider leaving the traditional medical field (i.e., hospitals, clinics, pharmacies) to work at a healthcare-centric tech company.

The healthcare industry is already experiencing widespread staffing shortages: In 2022, 145,213 healthcare workers left the medical field, according to the latest data from healthcare analytics firm Definitive Healthcare. Looking ahead, consulting firm Mercer projects that 510,000 healthcare positions may be unstaffed by 2026.

Worker retention is increasingly important—but how so? “I think it’s dangerous for healthcare groups to continue to rely on [the idea that] our nurses, our physicians, our techs want to do this work because they care about people,” Jennifer Hammond, managing director of consulting firm Huron’s healthcare practice, told Healthcare Brew. “Of course they do, but they also care about solving problems […] and the tech groups right now are very appealing because they are actually solving things.”

According to Melinda Giese, senior VP of enterprise client solutions at healthcare staffing firm CHG Healthcare, “the No. 1 reason that physicians report to us in terms of why they’re interested in leaving their traditional healthcare setting is burnout.”

The term burnout has been used for years to explain how healthcare workers feel, but Giese said some in the industry are now using the phrase “moral injury” to describe a feeling that goes beyond burnout.

“What we’re hearing across the board in a lot of different forums is ‘moral injury,’ where it’s taking the wind out of [providers’] sails in terms of why they got into medicine,” Giese said.

Hammond said the lack of flexibility is another primary reason healthcare workers are exiting traditional work settings.

“They’re seeing other ways that they can provide care that’s flexible and different,” Hammond said. “If you’re a nurse, you’re like, ‘OK, am I on the floor for 12 hours a day, or am I sitting at home with a flexible work schedule doing utilization review?’”

So, how can the traditional medical field keep workers? According to Hammond, it’s going to take systemic change and thinking outside of pay raises and increased benefits.

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.

For one, health systems need to improve daily workflow processes, Hammond said, adding that one of the contributing factors to healthcare worker burnout is how difficult many daily tasks are, like scheduling.

“The tools and the systems within the flow of work are so broken and so inefficient and so frustrating that people are saying ‘Forget it,’” she said.

Many health systems still rely on manual processes for daily tasks, like using Excel for scheduling, Hammond said. Even tasks like patient intake can be frustratingly cumbersome, she added.

“When you’re going to a tech group, typically it’s small and they probably have better infrastructure,” Hammond said. “You’re not dealing with legacy systems, legacy processes. The white-knuckle approach of healthcare workers just dealing with broken, inefficient, nonintegrated systems is over because they can go places where they’re not necessarily having those barriers.”

Flexibility is power. Giese said the best change traditional medical systems can make to retain workers is to adopt more flexibility when it comes to worker schedules.

“The whole world has sort of gone remote or hybrid or some version of that, but physicians don’t really get to take advantage of it in any way—for obvious reasons—and so they’re seeking some flexibility and being able to call the shots a little bit,” Giese said.

She said she’s seen some health systems hire two workers for jobs that used to take one, which adds in more flexibility since each person in the role works fewer hours.

Ultimately, healthcare workers leaving the traditional medical field for tech may not be a bad thing for the healthcare industry, Giese said.

“As this challenge continues to actually worsen, and that physician shortage becomes greater and the gap becomes greater […] I am seeing hospital systems […] willing to be much more accommodating,” she said. “I still think there’s a long way to go from what I can see, but I do think it is creating some of that flexibility within the system.”

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.