Anesthesia Workforce Shortages and How to Navigate Them

For years, anesthesia departments in healthcare facilities across the US have experienced workforce shortages that have only escalated in scale and severity. Despite recent positive trends that indicate growth in this sector, data still indicates more and more healthcare providers are simply unable to keep up with demand. 

Here we will analyze why the anesthesia workforce shortage is happening and what healthcare organizations can do to attract and retain talent in the space.

How the Anesthesia Workforce Shortages Began

The origins of anesthesia workforce shortages are in large part attributed to a study conducted by Abt Associates in 1994, which was released by the American Society of Anesthesiologists. This report stated that there was an overabundance of medical students moving into anesthesia at the time. As a result, the report goes on to state that residency programs were training around 30% too many residents. The most pessimistic projections stated that no anesthesiologists should be trained for the next 16 years, and the industry listened.

In no small part due to that report, anesthesiology programs began to reduce the amount of students they admit, which resulted in fewer available anesthesia providers across the US. However, the report was indeed found to be faulty a few years later, as it did not account for several external factors, such as the increasing demand and mass availability of anesthesia services. Ever since, the industry has seen workforce shortages that persist today.

Where the Anesthesia Workforce Shortage Stands Today

Despite the number of anesthesia providers increasing significantly over the years, the industry has struggled to keep up with demand. Experts hypothesize this could be due to factors including, but not limited to:

  • COVID-19: The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly strained the workforces of every industry, but particularly in the medical sector. Nearly every area of medicine has already seen workforce shortages, whether in nursing staff, increasing CEO turnover, or anesthesia workers.
  • The Abt Report: The industry hasn’t been the same since the Abt report torpedoed the next generation of trained anesthesia professionals. While it has taken great strides in the right direction and has seen growth, this growth still lags behind demand.
  • Demographics Changes: The new generation of workers is less likely to stay with one organization for very long. This is also facilitated and encouraged by the fact that anesthesia is in high demand and the ubiquity of mobile healthcare providers.
  • Higher Demand For Anesthesia: The use cases for anesthesia have expanded over the years, and thus so has demand. It is now critical for ambulatory surgery centers, free-standing endoscopy centers, orthodontic and oral surgery clinics, and plastic surgery centers to utilize anesthesia within their practices.

Anesthesia Management Services Help Navigate Workforce Shortages

One of the more significant ripple effects caused by the anesthesia workforce shortage is increased spending for medical facilities. Anesthesia is one of the most costly aspects of any provider, staffing shortage or not, because it is the lowest reimbursed service in healthcare. Increasing demand only exacerbates these costs, making anesthesia management all the more necessary.

It’s never been more essential to attract quality talent and retain them for the long-haul, despite the ever-evolving landscape and new generation of workers. Anesthesia management services can help:

  • Manage the RFP process
  • Strike a balance between having enough talent and retaining them
  • Provide wage recommendations that attract talent without bleeding the organization dry
  • Resolve billing challenges that come with anesthesia, which is particularly complex
  • Compare to MGMA data to optimize the staffing model

Count on Sullivan Healthcare Consulting to Optimize Your Anesthesia Department

Despite industry workforce shortages, Sullivan has helped thousands of ORs across the country optimize their anesthesia departments. Our seasoned team of experts is dedicated to finding cost containment strategies without sacrificing the integrity of the business. 

By assessing and benchmarking all perioperative services and their interdependencies, identifying what isn’t working, building consensus for a best-practice-based solution, and helping all stakeholders work together to correct it, Sullivan is your #1 resource for anesthesia management services and more.
Get started on an anesthesiology department assessment by getting in touch today!

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