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The Shift Toward Virtual Staffing: Addressing the FTE Provider-to-Employee Ratio

In the intricate dance of managing a healthcare practice, one crucial aspect often misjudged is the balance between full-time equivalent (FTE) providers and FTE employees.

Traditionally, a standard 40-hour workweek is used as a benchmark to define FTEs, but in healthcare, this figure can lead to miscalculations, due to the unique nature of providers’ work schedules and responsibilities compared to other types of employees.

Unlike administrative or support staff, whose roles align more closely with a standard 40-hour workweek, providers often have irregular schedules, varying patient loads and additional responsibilities beyond direct patient care–and these schedules can vary based on specialty, patient composition, and many other factors, even time of year. Therefore, relying on a standard 40-hour workweek can cause discrepancies in accurately capturing the workload and staffing needs of providers.

Oftentimes, the traditional FTE provider-to-employee ratio inaccurately suggests a lower staffing requirement than necessary, obscuring the actual need for additional support staff.

FTE Provider to Employee Ratio Trending Higher

As the landscape evolves, it's becoming increasingly evident that the FTE provider-to-employee ratio is trending higher, meaning there are fewer support staff available per provider. This decline in staffing availability presents challenges for healthcare practices to adequately support their providers and maintain optimal levels of patient care and operational efficiency.

Thankfully, the rise of virtual staffing presents a promising solution to this conundrum.

The Dynamics of FTE Provider to Employee Ratio

When considering the staffing needs of a healthcare practice, it's crucial to acknowledge that providers operate on a different schedule and workload dynamic compared to traditional employees. This asymmetry underscores the importance of considering the comprehensive workload of providers beyond a simple assessment based solely on a standard workweek.

To further demonstrate the dynamics of the FTE provider-to-employee ratio, consider a provider working a 1.0 FTE. Research indicates that physicians spend significant additional hours on non-patient-facing tasks for every hour of direct patient interaction. When physicians spend additional time on tasks such as reviewing medical records, responding to patient inquiries, and completing documentation, their actual working hours tend to far exceed 40 hours a week. Failure to account for these additional hours can result in understaffing, decreased productivity, and compromised patient care coordination within the practice.

The Impetus for Change: Virtual Staffing

Against the backdrop of a looming physician shortage and the escalating demand for healthcare services, the traditional staffing paradigm is proving untenable. Health Resources & Services Administration predicts a deficit of 124,000 physicians by 2034, extending to support staff and exacerbating existing staffing challenges. Coupled with current staffing shortages, estimated at 15-30% nationwide, healthcare practices are grappling with decreased productivity, morale, and revenue.

Enter virtual staffing—a strategic alternative that offers a lifeline amidst these challenges. Virtual staffing provides a flexible, cost-effective solution to address staffing gaps and optimize practice efficiency. By outsourcing tasks such as prior authorizations, insurance verifications, and medical coding, practices can streamline operations, reduce overhead costs, and enhance patient care coordination.

The Benefits of Virtual Staffing

The allure of virtual staffing lies in its myriad benefits for healthcare practices:

  • Ease of Hiring and Training: Virtual staffing providers handle the recruitment and training process, alleviating the burden on in-house staff.
  • Enhanced Productivity: By offloading administrative tasks to virtual staff, in-house teams can focus on patient care, improving overall practice efficiency.
  • Cost Savings: Virtual staffing eliminates expenses associated with in-house staffing, such as office overhead, taxes, and benefits, resulting in significant cost savings.
  • Scalability: Virtual staffing offers scalability, allowing practices to adjust staffing levels based on fluctuating demands without the constraints of traditional employment models.

Cost Comparison

From a financial perspective, the advantages of virtual staffing are compelling. Take an example of a full-time in-house staff position that pays $25 per hour, plus a conservative 25% for benefits, taxes and overhead:

In-House Staffing (Full-time)

  • Weekly cost, 40 hours = $1,250
  • Monthly cost, 173 hours = $5,406
  • Annual cost, 12 months = $64,872

Moreover, these amounts do not include vacation time or the cost of recruiting, onboarding, and training.

Compare that to a virtual back-office service, with fully trained staff connected to your office technology platform. For this example, we assume an hourly rate of $14*:

Virtual Staffing (Full-time)

  • Weekly cost, 40 hours = $560
  • Monthly cost, 173 hours = $2,422
  • Annual cost, 12 months = $29,064

*Current average rate offered by Staffing Angels

By embracing virtual staffing, practices can achieve substantial cost savings without compromising quality or efficiency.

As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, today’s true FTE provider-to-employee ratio is no longer sufficient to meet the demands of modern medical practice. Virtual staffing emerges as a viable solution, offering a strategic approach to address staffing shortages, enhance practice efficiency, and optimize resource allocation. By embracing virtual staffing, healthcare practices can navigate the complexities of staffing dynamics with agility and resilience, ensuring the delivery of high-quality care in an ever-changing healthcare landscape.

Physicians Angels was the industry's first Virtual Scribe company, providing real-time documentation directly into the physician's EMR, along with our Staffing Angels back-office support services. Our services improve patient throughput, practice financial performance, and contribute to a better work/life balance for the physician and office staff. To learn more, visit or contact us.