Burnout, disengagement, financial pressures, government regulations — these are all forces set to disrupt the healthcare industry, according to AMN Healthcare’s 2021 Healthcare Trends Survey Report. Despite these threats, nearly two-thirds (63%) of healthcare executives are optimistic about 2021.

AMN’s report is based on responses from more than 550 healthcare executives. From the responses, AMN identified what they expect to be the biggest trends for 2021. Here’s a brief review of the key findings.

The continuing impacts of COVID-19

More than 8 in 10 (81%) organizations surveyed were impacted either “a great deal” or “a lot” by the pandemic. Health expenditures fell drastically in spring and still had not recovered by the fourth quarter, due in part to the high national unemployment level which leads people to put off healthcare.

Organizations responded to these financial impacts with budget cuts, worker furloughs, and tight cash flow management. These effects will continue to be felt in 2021 and possibly beyond. “Some believe full financial stabilization is 3-5 years away,” the report states.

Burnout and other workforce challenges

The biggest challenges to a recovery may come from the workforce. While the executives surveyed perceive workforce engagement as high, that engagement varies by role with leadership perceived as being more engaged than either nurses or physicians.

Other studies have suggested that feelings of burnout have increased — 58% of physicians often have feelings of burnout, compared to 50% in 2018, according to a Physicians Foundation report released in September 2020. In the AMN study, 36% of executives said that this type of clinician issue is “the most potentially disruptive industry force over the next three years.”

With employee retention a top priority, leaders will be looking into the factors that most influence staying. According to the respondents, the top three factors are organizational culture (44%), colleagues (43%), and compensation packages (37%).

Aside from retaining employees, healthcare organizations will need to fill the jobs that were lost during the crisis. AMN found that hospitals are expecting big shortages this year, most prominently of clinical staff — 83% of respondents expect to face a shortage of nurses, 30% expect a shortage of physicians, and 24% expect a shortage of “other” employees such as respiratory therapists.

An overall sense of optimism

Despite the headwinds, 63% of executives said they are optimistic about the direction of the industry this year. “The pandemic has created new opportunities,” one respondent said. “We are learning different, more efficient ways to deliver healthcare.”

In line with this, 59% of respondents said they expect improvement this year in the health of their organization. To facilitate this improvement, organizations are pursuing several strategies, including the full recovery of deferred elective and other procedures (39%), service line expansion (27%), telehealth growth (19%), and expanded consumer marketing (8%).

These are just some of the findings from AMN Healthcare’s survey. Download the full report for additional insights about remote work, the regulatory environment, workforce management strategies, and more.