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May 5, 2023

It’s Time to Unlock the “Gig” Workforce in Healthcare

Todd Owens
Healthcare Industry

After reading the Wall Street Journal’s new piece on hospitals venturing into the gig economy, one thing became clear: flexibility is king, and the healthcare industry is catching on.

Persistent short-staffing and burnout have made “gig” nursing apps, including CareRev and ShiftMed, a very attractive option for nurses and caregivers who prioritize work-life balance and flexibility over the stability of a full-time job. So much can be learned from these apps, and it’s paramount that healthcare leaders model their own internal workforce strategy accordingly.

The Shift in “Shifts”

The migration of the gig economy into healthcare is happening, and it’s happening fast. The workforce, especially nurses, has been through a lot. The physical and emotional burnout from the pandemic and an industry-wide staffing shortage has led to further attrition and, in many cases, an inability to deliver quality healthcare. 

For many nurses, this unprecedented period has changed how they want to work altogether. With new options to pick up last-minute shifts at the same or greater pay rate, many nurses have thrown in the towel to internal full-time positions and opted for better work-life balance. Gig apps, accessible on their mobile device from the comfort of their home, allow them to do the work they love without the physical and mental exhaustion of full-time (often overtime) rigid schedules. 

This shift in “shifts” per se has forced hospitals and health systems to adjust staffing strategies. They have little choice but to adapt and take advantage of this newly minted flexible workforce since many nurses will now ONLY work this way. If hospitals and health systems ignore this new and growing segment of the workforce, they will unnecessarily limit the pool of talent from which they can recruit. Not helpful when there aren’t enough nurses in the first place.

Taking Advantage

Healthcare system administrators and nursing managers have a decision to make. Offer flexible scheduling options to their internal staff, or risk losing them to third-party apps that specialize in delivering work-life balance, greater rates of pay, and even same-day pay.

The staffing industry is experiencing unprecedented levels of staff happiness, loyalty, and retention. Healthcare must take note and adopt their best practices, or there will be a perpetual and very costly reliance upon third-party staffing agencies and labor marketplaces for years to come.

The WSJ article references a few health systems that have taken matters into their own hands with this realization. 

UPMC is moving in this direction by building a sizable internal “temporary agency” of 700 nurses. Providence added an internal flexible workforce, filled 13,000 shifts across 12 facilities, and is expanding even further.

Health systems like these have proven that undertaking the assembly and deployment of their own flexible workforce rather than going through expensive 3rd party agencies has incredible value, both in terms of labor cost and quality.

There are many challenges to implementing a strategy like this, but I’ll focus on one of the largest: technology.

Flexible Scheduling Requires Different Technology 

A crucial aspect of the gig economy is the technology that unlocks it. Only with technology is it possible to manage the inherent complexity: shifts that come and go, staff with changing preferences, unexpected cancellations and last-minute callouts, union regulations, labor laws, regulatory compliance, and more.  

It’s a complex matching and optimization process that can only be effectively managed through smart technology and advanced analytics.

Think about the difference between the tech stack of a traditional taxi cab company vs. a modern gig app like Uber or Lyft. Uber and Lyft only work for the rider and driver because technology balances both needs. By matching rides and manipulating rates, Uber and Lyft do remarkably well in terms of building a service that fulfills virtually every ride. Imagine Yellow Cab trying to manage this kind of complexity by leveraging their whiteboards, dispatchers, and radio communications.  

The synchronicity that ride-sharing apps have built with their customers and drivers is something healthcare staffing organizations will eventually achieve. Technology is here today to help make it happen.

How does Kevala play a role in the gig economy in healthcare?

Kevala is the technology that allows healthcare systems to deliver gig-like flexibility to their internal workforce. By scaling up internal PRN and float teams and using Kevala’s FLEX software to create greater control over their schedule, healthcare systems can unlock a large and growing gig workforce and employ them directly. Third-party agencies (and more recently, app-based labor marketplaces) have always played an important role in filling urgent needs and will continue to do so, but it would be ill-advised for healthcare systems to allow third-party marketplaces to become the core of their workforce. It’s far better to learn from these apps and build similar processes internally. Kevala is here to help you make that happen.


The Wall Street Journal article furthered the notion that the healthcare industry must embrace the gig economy. It specifically touched on how hospitals and health systems can utilize it properly, but the simple fact remains that healthcare workers require flexibility. And flexibility is only possible by leveraging the right technology. 

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