Silvia Piai
Silvia Piai (Research Director, Health Insights)

The pandemic has forced us to look more in depth at the organisation of work in healthcare, and in the past two years we have seen healthcare organisations using digital to adopt new ways of working.

The first intent was to ensure care access and continuity and to protect patients and staff from infection. But over time, new digitally enabled work archetypes have developed and matured, leading to the Future of Work and helping to solve or mitigate some of the problems that have long plagued European healthcare.

Workforce Pressures Amplified by COVID-19

When it comes to workforce pressures, COVID-19 worsened the situation that was already borderline. For example, the UK’s NHS started 2020 with a shortage of nearly 100,000 employees.

COVID-19 has magnified the impact of deficient health workforce strategies, which is now being reflected in quality and access to care. A considerable number of NHS trusts in England have declared formal “critical incidents” to scale back services for routine care and focus on life-threatening situations.

The National Audit Office and, more recently, a parliamentary inquiry, have shown that the NHS is no longer able to meet quality-of-care standards for patients on the waiting list for cancer care.

The emotional and physical stress of the past two years is driving medical and nursing staff to leave the profession. The British Medical Association survey found that half of responding physicians expect to work fewer hours, with a further 21% planning to leave the NHS entirely.

In Germany, around 14,000 nursing staff positions remained vacant in 2021, as did another 8,000 intensive care unit jobs. According to the association of German hospitals, inadequate staffing levels led to temporary or permanent closure of some intensive care facilities.

Healthcare needs a strategic approach to managing medical and nursing staff, work patterns and employee experiences. These needs must be addressed in a broader context of fast-changing organisational and care models, technologies, and the expectations of today’s workforce, which currently sees four generations working together.

Digital Strategies for Hybrid Work Models in Healthcare

While digital technologies alone cannot solve the problem, the experience of the pandemic taught us that they must be part of the strategy. 70% of European healthcare organisations we interviewed said that staff productivity has been one of the most impactful areas of digital investments in the past 12 months.

“Hybrid” work models helped protect, support, and enhance the work of doctors and nurses. Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring systems, clinical collaboration platforms and workflow automation solutions, when planned and implemented considering the clinicians’ perspective, have made it possible to manage workloads better, reduce repetitive tasks, and improve the quality of interaction with patients.

We predict that by 2025, 50% of healthcare organisations globally will rely on “hybrid” work models to combat burnout, reformulate roles and tasks, and improve work experiences.

In European healthcare, however, staff experience seems less of a priority: less than 30% of European healthcare organisations told us that they are prioritising investment in this area in 2022 (IDC Health Insights European Survey, January 2022 N=315). In Italy, one of our studies commissioned by Salesforce showed that although doctors were considered among the major beneficiaries of connected health solutions, they were the least included in the selection and implementation processes of the same.

Meanwhile, the benefits of digital investments in both patient- and clinician-facing solutions can be greatly reduced if clinicians’ perspectives and experience is not factored in.

The Future of Work in healthcare is not about digitally reproducing the existing processes. Rather, it is about innovating together WITH the workforce.

For example, design-thinking methodologies can help pay greater attention to how information is used in care processes and how healthcare personnel interact with clinical information systems. It is also about dynamically integrating the information that comes from human resource management, talent management, and skills development systems.

Investing in People

About 40% of European healthcare organisations we interviewed are investing in people analytics and performance management solutions. However, these investments must be included in the broader modernisation strategies of healthcare organisations. Our research shows that the organisations that took such a holistic approach were most resilient during the pandemic.

An end-to-end strategy for workforce engagement and empowerment might not be on the top of the agenda in European healthcare right now, but we expect a rapid evolution of the Future of Work theme in the next 12 months.

Across Europe, government policies are setting new strategic directives, such as those outlined by the “People Strategy” and the “People Plan” of the NHS in England. Here, digital emerges as a key enabling factor to share and improve knowledge, develop multidisciplinary work models, improve staff experience, and attract talent and skills. Similarly, the French national digital health agency just launched the “Structures 3.0” initiative, which supports investment in digital solutions that ease the work of healthcare professionals.

We see many examples demonstrating how the success of digital strategies in healthcare is determined by the ability to involve and create value for individuals and their relationships. This is certainly true for patients, but the equation must also include healthcare professionals and the evolution of their work patterns, experiences, and expectations.

We will address these and many other hot topics in European healthcare during our IDC European Healthcare Executive Digital Summit 2022 on May 18, 2022. If you haven’t registered, there is still time to do so. Looking forward to having you on board!

For further information on how to register for the Summit, please contact Barbara Cambieri or Charlotte Thygesen Poulsen.


To learn more about our upcoming research agenda, please contact Silvia Piai, Adriana Allocato, or Nino Giguashvili.

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