GAO: Feds lack planning, accountability for healthcare workforce

Workforce programs for nurses and physicians are among those targeted by the GAO report
Workforce programs for nurses and physicians are among those targeted by the GAO report

Current workforce planning efforts conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services are too broad to adequately meet the nation's healthcare needs, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The GAO report found many of the HHS'  healthcare workforce programs — including those for nurses, therapists, pharmacists, physicians and others who provide direct patient care — lack the oversight and planning to directly address healthcare issues. Broad strategies like improving healthcare access in historically underserved areas and supporting federally funded health centers don't “explicitly reference workforce issues” or how they relate to HHS' goals and performance targets, the report noted.

The GAO report also took issue with the fact that some of HHS' largest workforce development programs — including two Medicare graduate medical education programs that received nearly 75% of HHS' workforce development funds for fiscal year 2014 — don't specifically target workforce needs for primary care or rural providers.

HHS also currently lacks a comprehensive set of quality measures to assess whether its workforce development efforts are meeting the department's goals for improving healthcare access and quality, according to the report.

“HHS's lack of specific planning goals for the health workforce in its current strategic plan makes it challenging for the department to plan and to maintain accountability,” the report reads. “Without a comprehensive and coordinated approach to program planning, HHS cannot fully identify the gaps between existing programs and national needs... or determine whether additional legislative proposals are needed.”

GAO recommended that HHS create a coordinated planning approach for its workforce programs that include performance quality measures, identifies and closes gaps between the programs and national needs and determines whether legislative proposals are needed.