Lately, there’s been a recurring theme in online news about the challenges of laboratory staffing. According to a recent article from late April in Forbes magazine entitled We’re Facing A Critical Shortage Of Medical Laboratory Professionals, the amount of the shortage is staggering: [In the US], we are 20-25,000 short on staff, with only 337,800 practicing.

Describing the scope of the work performed, the Forbes article explains how, before the pandemic, US laboratory personnel were performing around 13 billion tests per year.  Since the pandemic began, Covid-19 testing itself has resulted in almost a billion diagnostic tests being conducted as of the end of April. On top of this, another change during the pandemic has been the trend of workers desiring to work from home – even after the pandemic peaks have subsided.

Since many workers want to stay in that mode, they leave less hands available to do work in the labs while increasing the need for IT workers – a concurrently growing staffing challenge. The Society for Human Resources warned about such a challenge for this year in a report published late in 2021 on the subject: IT Workers Will Be Hard to Find and Keep in 2022. So, this begs the question: what can be done to find additional workers or decrease the need for them to shore up the gap?

Part of the solution does lie in technologies when looking at the challenge from a laboratory-wide perspective.  Overall staffing concerns can be decreased through technologies like interfaces and remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools.

Interfaces are a lab technician time substitute as they replace manual tasks by letting machines do the same work. In the process, this decreased data entry labor eliminates human errors.  The overall result is a net reduction in required staff hours and more accuracy in the operation.

In the case of RMM, IT operations can employ a more managed platform in place of a break/fix mode: an historically disruptive approach that eats up IT staff time when it’s already at a premium. RMM technology replaces a set of IT management tasks by using scheduled routines and, where possible, automates restarts. The result is a lower number of support tickets needing to be submitted and managed to completion along with an overall reduction in technician time.

The source of these kinds of solutions are from Managed Service Providers (MSPs) & other healthcare IT service providers. We work in this peculiar nexus of laboratory backends that many imagine closeted away in a dark server room.  Still, we do come into the light and communicate with the outside world and talk to other partners in IT. In the process, we hear how lab managers are looking for technology solutions to streamline their operations. Given the focus on computers over the past few decades, they certainly continue to be one approach to help battle the critical shortage of laboratory professionals.

Otherwise, attracting more staff is all in the human treatment. According to the World Economic Forum online article What do employees want most from their work life in 2022? the top things wanted from employers are:

  • Prioritizing flexibility and skills development
  • Concern for their wellbeing and purpose
  • Letting them have the freedom to decide start and finish times

Consequently, the best impression laboratories can leave on their social media is that they put the human side first to increase the odds of attracting new employees. This always needs to be lived in the workplace. In the process, hiring managers can decrease burnout and reduce the odds of losing employees they want to keep by creating a workplace that’s meaningful to them.