The 21st century has introduced a host of new challenges to the effective administration of health care. Costs are skyrocketing, and resources are limited.

As the Baby Boomer generation heads into retirement and more Americans obtain health insurance, many for the first time in their lives, providers find themselves stretched thin and shortages loom.

More than three million health care workers in the United States are nurses; they make up the biggest portion of the health care workforce. That’s why chief nursing officers and other nurse leaders will be the ones who tackle many of the challenges facing the industry as a whole.

Nurse leaders must help their staff navigate complex health care reform laws and keep patients satisfied with their care while also keeping costs as low as possible and predicting the future needs of this rapidly-changing industry.

Managing Health Care Reform

Once upon a time, hospitals and providers earned money based on the sheer number of patients they were able to see. Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, providers earn money based on the quality of a patient’s outcome. Now, hospitals and other health care organizations must:

  • Meet certain safety and quality guidelines
  • Demonstrate a decline in mortality rates
  • Deliver efficient care before and after discharge
  • Keep readmissions at a minimum Satisfy patients and their families 

Nurse leaders will need to find ways to cope with declining acute-care admissions and increasing non-acute care admissions, as well as lower reimbursement amounts. Thanks to Medicaid expansion and increased access to health insurance, nurse leaders must also find ways to cope with the increased numbers of patients seeking care.

Forecasting Future Industry Needs

No one can see the future, but that’s exactly what nurse leaders must do to meet the needs of their organizations in the years to come. Current upheavals in the health care industry make it difficult for nurse leaders to predict future staffing needs, much less how to keep those staff members happy and engaged at work.

One way is to look at reports like the Institute of Medicine’s The Future of Nursing, which calls for 80 percent of nurses to have at least a BSN by 2020. The IOM also wants nurses to pursue advanced nursing degrees like the MSN, the DNP, or the Ph.D. in Nursing, enter advanced practice, forge partnerships with physicians and other care providers, and take steps to improve data collection and information sharing.

Mitigating Increasing Costs

If nothing is done to bring down health care costs in the U.S., the nation could be spending an estimated $13,000 per person per year by 2018. While the Affordable Care Act has taken steps to try to bring costs down, the health care industry itself is under pressure to do its part.

The ACA’s focus on preventive care can do a lot to lower costs — it’s cheaper to keep a healthy patient healthy than it is to let that patient get sick and then try to restore health. An increased emphasis on improved patient outcomes can also help lower costs, by minimizing hospital admissions and rendering many procedures completely unnecessary.

Satisfying Patients and Their Families

Hospitals and other health care facilities have long focused on increasing patient satisfaction. But as the health care industry grows more competitive and more patients shop around to get the most for their health care dollars, patient satisfaction is becoming more important. Patients won’t choose to receive care from a facility that doesn’t have a good track record of customer satisfaction!

Since nurses tend to have the most contact and interaction with patients and their families, nurse leaders will increasingly need to find ways to improve the treatment experience for patients and their loved ones. Some strategies include eliminating visiting hours, bringing patients and their families into the care dialogue, and allowing patients and their families to influence hospital policies.

Today’s nurse leaders are facing a unique set of challenges as the health care industry undergoes a period of rapid and fundamental change. Nurses are uniquely positioned to meet these challenges in a way that improves patient care and outcomes, lowers health care costs, successfully navigates changes in health care legislation, and prepares for the future of the industry.

In the years to come, nurse leaders will no doubt occupy an increasingly central role in the administration of health care.