- Workforce strategy is inseparable from digital transformation strategy (and vice versa).
- In healthcare, workforce demand is expected to continue to increase, at the same time as technology augments and supports new ways of working, role redesign and new service delivery models.
- Healthcare leaders and clinical teams need support in turning the concept of digitally driven healthcare into transformation strategies or roadmaps.
- The way forward requires both a strategic approach to understanding functional and scope optimization across whole healthcare systems, as well as profession and specialty specific analysis to understand the nuanced impacts of digital technologies.
The future of work: Evolving traditional workforce planning approaches
When it comes to healthcare workforce planning, the traditional approach of simply predicting demand for services and then planning the capacity of clinicians and infrastructure to meet it, is no longer adequate. The pace of technological change coupled with the global shortage of healthcare staff1 requires a contemporary approach to workforce planning. Modern workforce planning needs to envision the medium- and longer-term future with new roles and new professional boundaries, then articulate the practical steps to its achievement. In response to this, healthcare organizations are beginning to see the potential for harnessing digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics to help plan their future workforces which will be transformed by those same technologies.
Coupling our personal work experience and expertise in the areas of digital transformation and workforce strategy, we’ve seen three ways that technology can help those in the healthcare sector understand and plan for their future:
1. Demand forecasting: Helping healthcare organizations to better anticipate future service needs and align workforce and other resources accordingly. This includes considering the changes in demand for labor created by new, digitally enabled ways of working, including an increased focus on health in the home and personalized medicine and understanding how this is expected to affect skill-mix, professional roles and consumer involvement in their health.
2. Workforce optimization: Unlocking insights on healthcare activities to understand whether there is a more efficient assembly and allocation of tasks among clinical and operational staff and across organizational borders to achieve desired outcomes – such as making better use of clinicians’ scope of practice, and role redesign that uses technology to free up clinician time.
3. Education, skills and training: Helping organizations to upskill and reskill their staff to work in different ways, especially when augmented by technology. This requires design of not only professional training at the undergraduate level, but also rethinking continuing professional development for the existing workforce to ensure that education and training supports the workforce with the transformations ahead.
To further illustrate these capabilities in action, we’d like to share insights from our work in Australia to help health systems prepare their workforces for the impact of technology.
Building a roadmap to the health workforce of the future
In 2019, the Australian Digital Health Agency engaged KPMG’s Australian firm to create a workforce and education roadmap, to support the health workforce with digital health transformation. To do so, we undertook significant engagement with the whole of the health sector in Australia, including healthcare leaders across all states and territories, healthcare workers, Indigenous health groups, educators and trainers, regulators, and the public.
With such a broad spectrum of stakeholders, the challenge we faced was: “how can you create a roadmap to capture such diverse requirements, roles, and activities for the digital future?” This turned out to be the most fascinating part of the project. Workshops were held across the country with the aim of ultimately shaping eight key health personas in delivering digital transformation. Rather than being based on traditional professions and role definitions, we created functionally based personas based on their roles in a digital health context: for example, a cardiologist is a “frontline clinician”, whereas a care team leader may be the “clinical and technology bridger”. These defined the competencies that will be needed as we move toward digital health futures, regardless of profession.
The culmination of the work to validate and deploy on the project was a summit with more than 150 stakeholders to work through the roadmap, identify areas for improvement and strengthen buy-in from stakeholders across the healthcare system. KPMG’s stakeholder engagement and insights work helped to form the National Digital Health Workforce and Education Roadmap2 which crucially reflects the differing levels of maturity and digital adoption between institutions and professions. For example, this roadmap flagged the need to develop nationally consistent professional guidelines based on digital health capabilities, the development of digital health national educational curricula and training materials, and the integration of digital health in national professional standards and accreditation requirements.
Taking digital to the profession-specific pathways
Our recent work with the Ministry of Health in New South Wales, has been focused on describing more practical and nuanced changes across selected professions and medical specialties. This enabled analysis of technologies that are already emerging and the impacts they are expected to have into the future. This analysis provided the evidence base around the degree of expected change and shows the differences across professions and specialties, for example genomics and personalized medicine will greatly impact the pathology workforce, artificial intelligence will be key to radiology functions in the future, and advanced robotics will impact the way in which surgeons undertake their role and how they are trained.
A key aspect of this work was helping to identify and champion where different health services are already innovating and exploring the future of work through technology adoption. This is because many leaders across healthcare see this is a future and long-term challenge rather than an immediate one that will continue to evolve over the coming decade and beyond.
Evidence-based decision-making in the future of workforce
Digital transformation in healthcare can often feel like an overwhelming new undertaking for leadership teams and individual staff. We have found that getting into the details and working through the practicalities of delivering transformation makes the shift to digital far less threatening and brings out many more opportunities and ideas. An excellent example has been our work with the Greater Whitsunday Alliance, a region in the State of Queensland who engaged KPMG to better understand the impact of automation and technology augmentation on their workforce across multiple sectors – including healthcare and social services – to best leverage employment and economic development opportunities.
Working with Faethm, a KPMG Australia alliance and their AI-powered workforce prediction tool3, deeper insights were gained into how emerging healthcare technologies such as telehealth, AI, genomics, 3D printing and electronic medication management, could disrupt the traditional health workforce. A key outcome for the Greater Whitsunday Alliance was identifying the education, skills and training requirements needed to build digital literacy, support new and emerging roles (e.g., information and communications technology roles such as process improvement analysts, data engineers and integrators) and change ways of working in response to these technologies. A key takeaway for the healthcare and social services sector in the region was that roles are expected to be augmented (supported) by technology with low levels of automation of tasks expected. This is different to other sectors in the region where in some cases, where technology is expected to automate some functions and current roles quite substantially.
All this work was brought together in a Future Employment Blueprint4 which identified key strategies to be undertaken to support the region’s economic and employment success. This blueprint has since been used to seek funding and stakeholder support for initiatives in the region around training and development, career pathways, leadership and industry support.
The critical role of leadership
An important lesson along the way was the critical role of leadership: whether overcoming the hump of new technology adoption or adapting to a digital future. Across Australia, KPMG professionals work with innovative health workforce leaders that have a strong vision and support innovative providers, including those determined to help people navigate their way through the change, identify opportunities for their own development, be comfortable about the implications for their roles and have the education, training and support to meet the challenge proved essential to success.
A big part of that leadership is prioritizing where digital transformation can make the biggest difference. Instead of getting caught up in what the technology can be used for, leaders need to be clear-sighted about the value they want to derive from that investment, such as productivity enhancements, patient outcomes and service quality and safety. Leaders also need to support staff through change management, training and development and in helping determine new professional boundaries and scopes-of-practice across professions. Technology can become a distraction from what you are trying to deliver if you don’t have a focus on value.
In spite of these high ambitions, leaders, particularly at the system level, need to recognize that institutions, professions and individuals are at different stages on the digital journey, and workforce development needs to reflect where they are rather than simply pointing to a destination which seems unreachable. Leaders need to make the investment of time and resources in developing the capabilities and capacity to deliver transformational change. This needs to encompass everything from training and development, to transitioning people and systems, to role redesign and new ways of working.
As the journey progresses, it is important to tell stories of success and progress, showing how the future is getting much closer to reality every day, and creating a shared understanding of what that future of work is going to be and how it will make a difference to all stakeholders in a healthcare system.
Ultimately, the key message is that digital transformation and workforce transformation are occurring in unison, with one not able to occur without the other. One of the reasons that healthcare systems struggle with workforce planning and digital transformation is that they are building disconnected, but parallel futures in silos. A unified approach, broken down into granular detail with clear objectives and practical steps, is the way to bring people and technology into the future, together.
- Develop a granular understanding of how specific technologies will impact specific healthcare segments – by allowing them to participate in transformation (rather than just receive change).
- Frame transformation as an ultimate gain – by allowing workers to perform at their best skillset and being clear about the value that is being created by technology for staff, citizens, consumers and taxpayers.
- Investment is required to build and anticipate the necessary capacity and capabilities to deliver transformation, reconciling labor, technology, and demand needs.
Throughout this website, “we”, “KPMG”, “us” and “our” refers to the global organization or to one or more of the member firms of KPMG International Limited (“KPMG International”), each of which is a separate legal entity.
1 World Health Organization. (2022). Healthcare workforce. www.who.int/health-topics/health-workforce
2 Australian Digital Health Agency (September 2020). National Digital Health Workforce and Education Roadmap, https://www.digitalhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/Workforce_and_Education-Roadmap.pdf
3 Faethm. (2022). About us. www.faethm.ai/about-us
4 Greater Whitsunday Alliance. (2020 September). Future Employment Blueprint. https://www.greaterwhitsundayalliance.com.au/new-blog/future-employment-blueprint