A Nurse’s Vision for Patient and Staff Safety: Healthcare Hero Turned Data-Driven Consultant

By Mary Jagim, MS, RN, CEN, FAEN

One-third of the registered nurses participating in a 2023 survey stated that it was likely they would prematurely leave the bedside, as another recent study highlighted that almost 1 million nurses plan to leave the profession by 2027.

In a recent McKinsey & Company survey, almost half of the participating nurses echoed that mindset with plans to leave their role due to an unmanageable workload and a lack of appreciation. Burnout, safety concerns, and high-stress environments have been the most common reasons given throughout these studies, as healthcare professionals consider pursuing other careers or early retirement.

It is reported that up to 5% of nursing shifts are spent on non-value-added tasks that fall outside of the designated role, with an hour of each shift typically spent searching for crucial equipment. These tasks not only amplify the overall stress shouldered by caregivers, but also diminish their time spent with patients, which reduces job satisfaction and the sense of workplace fulfillment. As patient-care team interactions decrease, dissatisfaction and stress levels rise, potentially resulting in poorer patient outcomes and increased incidents of violence. Healthcare leaders are urged to support their teams by alleviating non-clinical burdens on clinicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. As retention rates decline and staff shortages worsen, workloads and safety concerns intensify.

Many interviewed by McKinsey & Company shared that their day-to-day work involves heavily manual processes and workflows These manual tasks, in addition to administrative burdens and safety concerns, significantly contribute to staff burnout and diminish satisfaction for both patients and caregivers. Providing the necessary systems and technology support is essential for freeing up time that can be dedicated to direct patient care. Modern technologies, such as real-time location systems (RTLS), have been proven to offer cost-effective solutions that ease operational burdens, support efficiency, increase safety, and focus on the data insights needed most by care providers. By reallocating time, caregivers can better focus on delivering high-quality patient care, thereby boosting satisfaction across the board and positively impacting the organization’s financial performance.

Leadership must provide safe environments

Hospitals, particularly emergency departments, face the unique challenge of operating round-the-clock to serve their communities. These environments are often filled with heightened emotions due to challenging and complex circumstances and the dynamic nature of patient care journeys. As a result, hospital leadership must be proactive in safeguarding patients and staff from potential threats.

Workplace violence in healthcare is not new. For the last 20 years, organizations such as the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), and the American Nurses Association (ANA) have been advocating for felony assault laws, as well as stricter workplace safety regulations. The Joint Commission and specific U.S. states have issued enhanced standards in recent years to focus specifically on workplace violence. Even so, the industry needs to do more, especially following the uptick in incidents during and after the pandemic.

While corporate initiatives contribute to a more supportive and less stressful environment, healthcare leadership and administrators must extend their support and do more to protect the backbone of their facility. This begins with recognizing the human experience throughout healthcare, which includes the patient, caregivers, and loved ones. It also involves harnessing modern technologies, that provide real insights and solutions for the people involved throughout the care journey. Effective healthcare leadership entails discussing with, listening to, and learning from the experiences of care teams to better address the true needs of those on the frontlines of their facilities.

Leverage RTLS to drive better communication, collaboration, and safety

RTLS and staff duress solutions are having a positive impact in hospitals. These technologies provide healthcare staff with a real-time tool to call for help. Assistance is always within arm’s reach, as the duress button is physically located on them in the form of a wireless staff badge. In the past, many emergency departments had panic buttons on the walls, but did not equip staff with wearable devices that allow for immediate assistance. When staff feel unsafe, they need to be able to call for additional resources discreetly and promptly, regardless of their location. RTLS duress solutions offer staff peace of mind by leveraging enterprise-wide visibility and providing real-time acknowledgment that a duress alert has been received by the security team for a rapid response to the staff members’ whereabouts.

Improving operational performance and efficiency is another crucial benefit of RTLS for healthcare teams and patients alike. It isn’t a secret that enhancing operational performance reallocates time to patient care and RTLS does just that by increasing staff productivity, morale, communication, and experiences. To provide an efficient solution for nurses and the overall healthcare team, the best place to start is with the manual administrative processes further overwhelming healthcare professionals. The McKinsey & Company study reports the potential to free up to 15% of clinicians’ time through technology or automation and improved task delegation. By reallocating this time, clinicians can better connect with their patients, build trust, and collaborate on the appropriate care path. This level of personalized care and trust also works to increase safety within healthcare facilities, which drives better outcomes and benefits everyone’s care journey.

Recommendations for an open dialogue between staff and leadership regarding safety

When selecting a technology provider, healthcare leaders should choose a partner that fully supports healthcare leadership by collecting staff data through surveys on their comfort levels and feelings of safety. This approach helps administrators understand what is happening in their facilities. It’s reminiscent of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is “a pyramid describing several levels of the human experience that allow an individual to feel fulfilled.” Safety and security, being near the base of the hierarchy, represent foundational needs for all humans. If administrators do not create a safe environment, there will continue to be turnover, low job satisfaction, lower patient outcomes, and staff shortages in the healthcare industry.

Across the industry, there’s a strong desire for increased communication between leadership and clinical staff. Those prioritizing safety should adopt best practices such as:

  • Creating steering committees to allow for open dialogue and inviting staff to raise concerns with upper management and hospital leadership. Be sure to ensure staff feel heard and are encouraged to participate.
  • Adding a new, dedicated staff member whose sole purpose is to address workplace violence issues and foster a safe working environment for all.
  • Engage staff at all levels of the organization in developing safety strategies.

As an emergency department manager, the number one thing that kept me awake at night was my fear that one of my staff would experience workplace violence. During my term as president of ENA, I heard many stories from nurses who had been assaulted and felt unsupported by their organization. Gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by team members is the key to successfully implementing RTLS, emerging technology, and safety protocols. The team members who are facing these circumstances daily should have seats at the table to voice invaluable experiences. Leadership must invest in these crucial solutions to de-escalate environmental stressors, keep patients and staff safe, and ensure efficient care.

Healthcare needs technology that supports humanism

The rise in violence, burnout, and staff shortages over the last few years has only escalated the need to better address the human experience in healthcare. The bottom line? Staff need to feel safe at work if they are going to be able to provide high-quality care for their patients. Clinician well-being is key, as is patient well-being. That means support from the top down within healthcare organizations, enterprise-wide workplace safety initiatives, and staff engagement to have a solution that gives staff more than just a sense of safety and support.

Mary Jagim is an experienced leader in healthcare consulting with an expertise in real-time location systems, emergency nursing, healthcare operations, and public policy. In 2001, she served as the national president of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) and led the development of ENA’s Key Concepts in ED Management Course and Guidelines in Emergency Department Staffing Tool. She was also a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Study on the Future of Emergency Care and the National Quality Forum E.D. Consensus Standards Committee as the Principal Consultant for CenTrak, Jagim works with healthcare organizations to leverage real-time technologies coupled with process enhancements to improve the patient experience, patient and staff safety and workflow efficiency.