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As health care reform takes shape across U.S. hospitals and clinics, it’s changing the way doctors and nurses do their jobs. “Instead of doctors being paid as they treat, they’ll be paid to keep a population of people healthy," says Matthew Holt, cofounder of Health 2.0, a conference focused on new forms of medicine. "The incentive becomes, what can we do to stop stuff downstream?”

While reactive care has been the norm at hospitals and physicians’ offices, the Affordable Care Act emphasizes preventing health problems from occurring in the first place. The push toward preventive care means that health care workers in all disciplines will play a huge role in educating populations to keep them well.

At the same time, demand for some health care workers will skyrocket in the next couple of years. Aging baby boomers are becoming eligible for Medicare, and more than eight million people have already signed up for health care via the ACA. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 19 percent growth in employment for registered nurses from 2012 to 2022, compared to an 11 percent average growth for all other jobs.

Those planning a career in health care will need to understand how these sweeping changes affect the professional skills they'll need to succeed.

Two big changes

“We're going to need to innovate in terms of how we deliver the care,” Karen Daley, president of the American Nurses Association, told DOTmed. “One of the mechanisms for doing that is devising care delivery systems that are team-based.”

Physicians no longer operate in isolation. They rely on medical records from patients who have seen multiple doctors for a range of health issues. As health care becomes a team sport, it requires groups of professionals, such as physicians, nurses, social workers, nutritionists and administrators, to collaborate and coordinate their efforts around patient care.

In addition to increased collaboration, health care workers also must cope with an explosion in health IT. Although the conversion to electronic health records was already underway, the ACA mandates that all medical practices use EHRs if they're dealing with a government-funded plan. Those planning a career in health care likely will need the technical know-how to use EHRs on a regular basis.

Critical skills for preventive care

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions and its implementation partner, Jobs for the Future, recently published a paper highlighting the skills that practitioners will need in order to usher in an era of preventive care. Here’s where future health care workers will want to develop proficiency, according to their research:

  1. Working in collaboration: Teamwork requires practitioners to work across disciplines and to transcend hierarchies. Virginia’s Inova Health and Massachusetts’ Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are two major hospitals that actively screen for teamwork skills during all staff interviews.
  2. Communicating effectively: Patient education is crucial for focusing on wellness, meaning that doctors and nurses will increasingly need to educate people about how to stay healthy.
  3. Problem solving and critical thinking: Hospitals and clinics looking to improve delivery process and workflow require staff to solve non-routine problems creatively. Beth Israel Deaconess also screens for problem-solving skills in its candidate interviews.
  4. Using technology: The growing use of electronic health records means that health care workers of all levels will need to understand the system technology. Home health aides will need to understand electronic health records if they’re used in planning patient meals, for example. At a rural hospital in Red Lodge [ADD STATE], just outside of Yellowstone National Park, practitioners use EHRs to gather patient information from faraway specialists and larger hospital systems.
  5. Geriatric expertise: As the baby boomer population becomes eligible for Medicare, practitioners in all settings will need additional expertise to care for an aging population. 

At the University of Virginia School of Nursing, interprofessional education — teaching nursing students and physicians-to-be about collaboration — was confined to the classroom. Now the two camps are working side-by-side in hospital units as part of their studies. 

Organizations like Beth Israel Deaconess and Inova Health already screen for teamwork skills, but the coming changes to health care will make it even more important for hiring managers at hospitals and physician's offices to do the same as they onboard the next generation of workers.  

Photo: Can Stock