Healthcare Workforce of the Future


To shift from a “sick care” to “well care” system, we must rethink the types of training, roles, and people that shape the healthcare workforce.

John Rudoy, PhD

5 min read

Our healthcare system is staffed by a group of highly educated, dedicated, and talented people. However, while this group is excellent at what it was intended to do—diagnosing and treating illness episodically—the evolving needs of consumers and our society require a different approach. If we hope to transition from a sick care to a wellness-oriented health care system, we will need to rethink the types of training, roles, and people that shape the healthcare workforce.

Part of the approach will be addressing the shortage of primary care physicians, behavioral health specialists, and other clinicians who are well-positioned to drive a patient-centric, wellness-oriented approach. Stopping there would be a mistake, however. The healthcare workforce of the future should be even broader than this; consumers are beginning to demand new services that require dramatically different kinds of employees with talents beyond the traditional clinical skillset.

A recent survey conducted by Oliver Wyman in partnership with Fortune Knowledge Group provides some hints on the types of services the new healthcare consumer will desire, and what kind of workforce will be required to support those services. We found that there is no “typical healthcare consumer.” Instead, a number of diverse segments of consumers are looking for different things. Everyone wants more help and support to work through the complicated issues that surround healthcare, but this means something different for different segments of the population. For example, millennials wonder about how to manage their healthcare and their finances, while baby boomers worry about how to maintain their health as they age, and family caretakers find themselves overwhelmed by the volume of tasks and decisions they are faced with.

So how should these demands shape the healthcare workforce? What are the new or expanded positions that must exist in the new healthcare universe? Based on our research and experience in the market, here are a few archetypical examples of the new positions healthcare organizations should be creating:

For the millennial: Healthcare financial advisor

Comparing millennials to older generations, we might expect their healthcare preferences to call for more technological elements, or social media integration, or other stereotypically millennial desires. And yes, these preferences did emerge from our survey; but beyond these bells and whistles, millennials are simply hungry for advice. Compared to other generations, they were far more likely to desire “financial navigation and planning services” that would help them “balance healthcare costs with other financial needs.”

Today, healthcare “financial planning” often consists of sitting in a windowless room in a hospital or clinic working out a payment plan with an administrator whose job is less about helping the consumer understand his or her options than maximizing the chances of successfully receiving payment.

But imagine if the workforce expanded to include true financial advisors, who could help consumers proactively plan for healthcare expenses, navigate their consumer-driven health plans, and make better care decisions? Millennials want this, and the availability of such a service would drive loyalty (and create a long-term improvement in the revenue cycle), but it would require a different, or differently trained type of employee.

Imagine if the workforce expanded to include true financial advisors, who could help consumers proactively plan for healthcare expenses, navigate their consumer-driven health plans, and make better care decisions?

For the boomer: Motivational health coach

Despite their counter-cultural reputation, boomers are satisfied with the status quo (at least when it comes to healthcare). They are not, however, particularly looking forward to the future. According to our survey, they are the least likely to expect their experience with the healthcare system to improve over the next 5 to 10 years; and more than any other generation, they worry about their upcoming loss of strength and mobility. These are individuals who are anticipating a world in which their lifestyle will change for the worse, and they don’t see a solution for it. Such individuals risk becoming disengaged from their healthcare, accepting the gradual slide into frailty as unfortunate but inevitable.

Healthcare workers who are trained and talented when it comes to encouraging and motivating individuals to stay active and engaged are needed to serve this segment. There are of course clinical elements to this skillset, but a gift for making connections and motivating people is perhaps more important. While the sick-care mindset of the current healthcare ecosystem will only confirm the worries of boomers, a new category of motivational health coaches will prove both attractive to consumers and beneficial to the overall management of the population.

For the family caretaker: Healthcare concierge

Family caretakers make decisions and handle logistics for someone (often multiple individuals) besides themselves. However, they rarely have the expertise to effectively make these decisions; nor do they have the time to build that expertise. For example, a 40-year-old is unlikely to have spent much time thinking about choosing the best Medicare Advantage plan, but that’s just what their aging and ailing parent needs. Family caregivers often find themselves managing a series of episodic crises, with no ability to step back, take a breath, and plan.

These individuals need everything from an extra pair of hands to manage transportation, health appointments, and general care for children and aged parents, to help making complex long-term decisions for their and their dependents’ healthcare. They would also likely benefit from behavioral health support for themselves.

What family caretakers need is a concierge—a quarterback for a team of experts who can relieve their burden. The healthcare organization that can provide this will win these individuals’ loyalty.

Lessons from today

The most successful up-and-coming healthcare organizations are already thinking along these lines. Iora Health, for example, hires health coaches with non-clinical backgrounds based on their skill at interacting with and motivating patients.

Other industries have a definite head start on healthcare and looking to external examples can be informative. Financial services can be a particularly useful analogue. For example, employers who have shifted their employees to defined contribution benefits are now beginning to contract with a new breed of financial services firms to offer electronic and in-person financial advisory services. Now that consumers are being expected to take a larger role in the cost and decision-making of their healthcare, similar services in the healthcare space should not far behind.

Designing for tomorrow

How will you need to change your own workforce? The details will of course depend on the specific makeup of your consumer population and will likely go beyond the few examples provided here. Regardless, healthcare organizations that expect to be successful in the future will need to spend as much, and likely more, time thinking about the growth of this new type of workforce as they do thinking about their standard medical staff plans.

  • John Rudoy, PhD