It is common for employees in the healthcare industry to begin their careers in entry-level positions and then move on to other positions as they acquire on-the-job training and experience. However, additional education and training is often necessary to ensure that their skills match an organization's goals and requirements. These needs can be addressed through skills gap assessments and training.
A skills gap is defined as the gap between the skills that employees currently have and the skills they need to be proficient at their jobs.1 Oftentimes, employees cannot identify what they do not know, which is why it is incumbent upon leadership to take the necessary steps to get their teams up to speed.
In this article, I will discuss the value of assessing skills gaps and explain how the information gathered can be used to evaluate and solve for areas of deficiency and plan for future growth and eventual employee succession.
Why Do Skills Gap Assessments Matter?
The following are real-world examples based on skills gap assessments that I have performed or reviewed, with a focus on front-desk employees:
- Employee A has 10 years’ experience working as a front-desk manager at a primary care practice and takes a new position as a front-desk manager at a multispecialty clinic.
- An assessment reveals skills gaps related to the referral management process and understanding copay differences.
- Employee B has 5 years’ experience working in the billing department at a multispecialty practice and takes a new front-desk position in a pediatric practice, performing scheduling, check-in, and verification services.
- An assessment reveals skills gaps related to customer service, dealing with difficult patients, appointment scheduling, and the Birthday Rule application for coordination of benefits.
- Employee C has 7 years’ experience working as a front-desk specialist at the same facility.
- An assessment reveals skills gaps related to identifying payer plans, understanding the difference between coinsurance and copayment, and understanding how the practice gets paid (ie, claims life cycle).
The downstream effects of these challenges on the revenue cycle include delayed payments, billing the wrong insurance company, poor collection of copayments at time of service, and denied claims and lost appeals. Fortunately, once these types of deficiencies have been identified, they can be addressed through proactive skills gap training.
5 Key Steps for Successful Skills Gap Assessments and Training
To enhance your practice’s culture and improve staff engagement, it is important to approach skills gap assessments and training from a position of positivity. Think of this as an opportunity to invest in your team members and recognize their contributions to the practice. Most employees want to put their best foot forward, so it is important to avoid patronizing them or appearing critical in any way.
The 5 steps involved in successful skills gap assessments and training are discussed below.
Step 1: Document Needs and Competencies
Although you may be able to ascertain needs and competencies from job descriptions, you should also include department managers in the discussion of what is a required skill level by position.
Step 2: Create a Chart of Departments and Identified Competencies
See the Table for a very basic example of how you can chart needs and competencies by department.
Step 3: Prepare the Perception
Skills gap analyses serve 2 purposes—professional development and organizational security. They should not be used to give demerits or create improvement plans. For full staff engagement, it is essential that you approach the process with this in mind.
For example, if you e-mail your team that you will be performing evaluations to assess the deficiencies of each member for improvement, they may become defensive, which will result in poor engagement and less transparent responses.
A better approach would be to announce during a routine staff meeting that you are going to provide individualized professional development opportunities, which involves assessing skills and areas where additional education may be needed to ensure that the practice is doing everything possible to support the needs of the team. This approach reflects the organization’s desire to invest in its employees because they are worth it, which will likely result in increased engagement and transparency.
Step 4: Assess Your Team
There are several methods you can use to perform assessments:
- Surveys. When issuing assessments via survey, consider whether you will encourage better transparency with an attributed survey, which attaches employees names to their responses, or an anonymous survey, which does not require or share any information identifying employees.
- SWOT analyses. If you are considering using this method, provide guidance on the desired competency areas so that your team knows how to respond.2
- One-on-one meetings. When using this method, clarify that the sole purpose of the meeting is to promote professional growth. Otherwise, individuals may be reluctant to admit to deficiencies, fearing it will reflect poorly on them.
Regardless of which method you choose, consider adding an “open suggestion” policy to your “open door” policies. This will encourage staff to strive for continuous improvement as it relates to themselves and the organization as a whole.
Step 5: Develop Training Plans
Whether you outsource training, develop it internally, or use a combination of methods, you need to ensure that the programs you put in place are comprehensive.
The examples discussed in this article focused on front-desk employees because these individuals are responsible for performing several critical tasks, such as creating the patient record, confirming eligibility and benefits, obtaining consents for treatment, managing referrals and Advance Beneficiary Notices of Noncoverage, handing out good faith estimates, scheduling patients, confirming appointments, and collecting patient responsibilities. The accuracy and timeliness of performing these activities can affect how quickly you get paid for your services and how much effort is required to obtain those payments.
However, it is important to keep in mind that skills gap assessments and training can be beneficial for all members of your staff, regardless of their current or previously held positions. I would also encourage healthcare leaders to perform self-assessments, which can help to identify any skills gaps they may have and promote their own professional development efforts.
- Resources for Employers. How to conduct a skills gap analysis. https://resources.workable.com/tutorial/skills-gap-analysis. Accessed August 15, 2022.
- Lorman. How to perform a skills gap analysis [free template]. February 15, 2021. www.lorman.com/blog/post/how-to-perform-a-skills-gap-analysis-template. Accessed August 10, 2022.