When my kids were younger, we used to watch "Super Why!" on PBS Kids. Whyatt Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Princess Pea and Pig would be called into action to rescue one of the gang from a potential mishap — tracking mud into the house, being accused of swiping a freshly baked cookie, not playing nicely, etc.
Happening upon, or being part of a calamity himself, Whyatt would get on his smartphone: "Calling all Super Readers! To the Book Club!"
After analyzing the problem, the Super Readers would be transported into a fairy tale to find clues forto solving their problem back in reality. Ah, but there was an exciting and dramatic twist: The Super Readers — with no apparent concern for the space-time continuum — would alter the ending of a fairy tale and use that resolution to solve their problem back home.
One of my favorite episodes was "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." The Super Readers arrived on the scene to see if they could help out the boy no one believed.
I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel likeas though I'm stuck in that story. Hardly a week goes by without some group warning of a workforce shortage that could bring the entire health care industry to a standstill. Often, we in the media help perpetuate the storyline. On page 20, we write about two surveys showing that hospitals are having a hard time finding capable IT workers, which could result in a slowdown of IT system deployments.
For the past few years, we've seen numerous headlines like this one from U.S. News & World Report (March 18), "Nursing Shortage May Harm Infants in Intensive Care, Study Says."
The mammoth migration to ICD-10 has spurred worry about a shortage of medical coders.
Then there's the looming physician shortage, totaling 90,000 by 2020 and 130,000 by 2025, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
I don't mean to belittle the effect that even a one-person shortage could have on a patient, a hospital, a community or the industry. Still, I can't help but wonder what would happen if, like Whyatt and the gang, we looked for ways to change the ending without necessarily changing the facts.
For instance, researchers in a January Health Affairs article contend that we need to look at the primary care situation through a wider lens. Most estimates "are based on simple ratios, like one physician for every 2,500 people," the authors say. Looking at the impact of team-based care and the expanding role of nurse practitioners and other physician extenders, the researchers argued that the primary care physician shortage may be "greatly overstated."
On the IT front, there are examples of hospitals, especially in rural areas, forming collaboratives to share systems and functionalities. Our Ddiabetes Mmanagement feature on pPage 34 examines how hospitals are reaching deep into their communities to manage this disease at a population level, and, thus, reduce the burden on the delivery system.
While some of the changes taking place are, in part, responses to workforce shortages, they are also innovative ways of changing the storyline for the better. (Spoiler alert: Iin the altered version of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", The Boy Who Cried Wolf, the boy cries and people come. They see the wolf and everyone has a picnic.)
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