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Healthcare executives are facing labor- and skills-related challenges after the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to record levels of clinician burnout and the rapid adoption of artificial intelligence-powered tools and telehealth platforms created a technology skills gap among providers.

Leaders have the responsibility to both train themselves and provide their employees opportunities to upskill, even as AI-enabled tools face barriers to adoptions in the industry.

Healthcare Dive caught up with Ranil Herath, president of online education provider Emeritus Healthcare, which has launched partnerships with educational institutions like Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and Harvard Medical School to provide training in healthcare leadership.

Herath discussed how healthcare leaders are training in key areas such as change management and finance, and how executives can foster a culture that encourages continued learning for clinicians. 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

HEALTHCARE DIVE: The World Health Organizations projects a shortfall of 10 million health workers by 2030. How can training healthcare leaders address the clinician shortage?

HERATH: Healthcare leaders face so many challenges, and one of the biggest ones is the clinician shortage. It becomes important to train leaders on retention and engagement to make the workforce culture more engaging, so it could be an aspirational place for clinicians to work.

This brings financial pressures as well as patient outcome challenges because of the clinician shortage, so leadership training becomes absolutely critical to address it.

Is there a healthcare leadership shortage as well as a clinician shortage? What does this entail?

HERATH: There is. The leadership turnover increased more than the clinician turnover in the last year. The pandemic and burnout have accelerated retirement, so that exacerbates the challenge. The bigger challenge now is we are moving up less-experienced leaders into those leadership positions.

In your discussions with clinician executives, what skill requirements are top of mind?

HERATH: You need to have a general understanding of AI, virtual care and remote monitoring as well as the ability to assess how to select, deploy and manage technology. Equally important is change management. How do you bring your clinicians along? How do you train them and equip them to use these new technologies you’re implementing?

AI is a big discussion. Healthcare leaders don’t need to know the coding and the technology side of it, but they do need to know what problems can be solved. Which AI tools are going to help my organization in its current size and stage of evolution?

How are physician executives working with clinicians to support training in AI decision-making and AI-enabled software?

HERATH: I believe it’s still quite lacking. We need to do a lot more in how we equip our clinicians as well as physician executives on AI-based decision-making. One of the leading causes for physician burnout is documentation and administrative tasks, which are not as motivating for them. Now, if well implemented, AI tools could easily help us ease that burden. Clinicians are being trained in how to leverage those technologies and get more time in front of patients.

How are clinicians adapting to the skills needed for virtual care and telehealth?

HERATH: I think we were forced in some cases to move rapidly to virtual care and telemedicine due to physical distancing, even though these technologies existed before the pandemic. What we didn’t do was the relationship building. The trust establishment between patient and provider takes a different form when it’s virtual. So there is a whole set of training of our clinicians that needs to happen for them to optimize these tools.

How do you train clinicians in virtual care, especially some who are used to in-person care for so many years?

HERATH: Being able to use an iPhone to get real high-quality imaging video has enabled us to optimize how we use these technologies.

The two big elements are the technology-side training, but also the change management. So you need the leaders to be a little bit more nuanced and sophisticated, because they need to not only select the right technology to implement, but they need to bring the people along, get the buy-in, get them excited and actually spend the right amount of time to help them understand how the care and outcomes they deliver can expand.


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