Embrace technologies that reduce frustration and make life better for nurses
By Mary Russell, MJ, BS, RN
The news is quite grim when it comes to the nursing crisis. It’s estimated that the potential nursing shortage in the U.S. will be 200,000 to 450,000 by 2025, with acute-care settings likely to be most affected. As a result, organizations are being forced to scale back services and face challenges related to staff burnout and increasing labor costs.
In addition to the reduction in healthcare services, nurse staffing issues directly affect patient care. A recent survey by the Michigan Nurses Association found that 42% of respondents knew of a patient’s death being caused by nurse understaffing, nearly double the percentage (22%) from seven years ago.
Nurses consistently report that the ever-growing workload burden is a key factor behind their intent to leave the profession. In fact, more than 25% of registered nurses plan to leave nursing or retire over the next five years. Nurses are not alone with these concerns. Clinicians report that they spend nearly twice as much time doing manual, electronic health record (EHR) -related tasks as they spend with patients. With the healthcare team burdened by time-consuming administrative tasks, it leaves less time for meaningful patient interactions.
We have the means to make the day-to-day work better for nurses and it’s time for healthcare organizations to make bold steps forward to do so. A recent report by McKinsey quantifies the potential to free up to 15% of nurses’ time on a typical shift by using technology to automate tasks and support better delegation among care teams. Investing in changes that reimagine current workflow processes will free up time for what nurses find most satisfying: spending more time with their patients, coaching their fellow nurses, and participating in professional-growth activities.
Integrate technology into everyday nursing
The most important first step to applying any technology that affects clinical staff is to commit to full collaboration. The nurses and other clinicians working at the bedside have the best insight into how technology can improve their workflows and support them in delivering the best care across all care settings. Younger nurses have grown up with a wide range of technology, such as smartphones and wireless communications, and do not expect to chart on paper. Instead, all nurses seek to have relevant patient data embedded in their natural workflows in meaningful ways to aid them in patient care.
Using proven technology with real-time integrated data enables healthcare organizations to thoughtfully reduce manual steps, eliminate redundant charting, and improve workflows. As an example, collaborate with nurses to provide easy-to-read dashboards that analyze and display real-time patient data and make it available anywhere in the hospital: patient rooms, mobile devices, nursing stations, etc. One such dashboard might display key status indicators for all inpatients, using color coding to highlight patients with parameters outside the accepted range and enable early interventions. Consolidating pertinent information and including visual cues helps nurses work confidently and delegate efficiently as they manage multiple tasks.
Acquire more data directly from more devices
It’s surprising that with today’s technology and integration standards, 37% of nurses in the McKinsey study reported not having vital signs or telemetry machines integrated with EHRs for automatic documentation. Nurses believe they could spend 30% less time documenting vital signs through integration. As patient monitoring technology continues to advance, it’s becoming less invasive and more sophisticated.
At the same time, integration is becoming more prevalent and more standardized. By taking advantage of standard integration protocols data from a full range of bedside physiological monitors, pumps, ventilators, and any other devices that export data can be integrated with the EHR via serial port, network interface, and wireless data acquisition. Once the data is in the EHR, it’s available for real-time analysis, including predictive scores and scales to identify at risk patients. It’s even possible to integrate streaming wave forms, such as those from fetal and heart monitors. Pulling all this data together through integration dramatically reduces charting time and reduces the need for nurses to go look at monitors—the data comes to them wherever they are.
Enable team-based care models
Automatically integrating data from patient monitoring devices into the EHR facilitates team-based care models that alleviate many of the communication challenges with members of the care team. When everyone can see the same data at the same time from disparate locations, it ensures accurate analysis by all members of the team. From clinics to medical/surgical units to critical care, the team-based approach enables all team members to work at the top of their license while delivering outcomes-focused care to patients.
With RNs as the team leaders, key tasks can be delegated to the most appropriate resource: Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN), Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA), or unit clerks. When supported by adaptable and scalable workflow technology, RNs can see that tasks are completed, such as vital signs and medication administration. These tools can be configured to highlight data that is outside the acceptable range. For example, when the CNA captures vital signs, the system can flag a patient whose heart rate has increased, to immediately alert the RN. When RNs have confidence that delegated tasks are completed and are reliably alerted when intervention is required, they can work more efficiently and effectively to deliver the best care possible.
Invest now, reap returns over the long haul
A recent report from IDC highlights the focus on technology investments by hospitals and health systems struggling to recover from pandemic-induced financial losses. The report indicated that 40% of clinical leaders identify integration and middleware as infrastructure technologies that have challenged their organizations the most, demonstrating the negative impact that fragmented data has on daily workflows and care outcomes.
Organizations that look beyond the initial expense of new technology and invest wisely in proven solutions will see the long-term value from time savings and cost reductions. The process of selecting new solutions needs to be collaborative, including nurses who will use the products. It is not only important to analyze the initial costs, but also to ensure that the products are comprehensive and will be rapidly implemented with customized configurations, intuitive workflows, and proper training. Hospitals with technology that supports patient care will reap the benefits of clinical staff satisfaction and retention, and improved patient experience and outcomes. Add to that the ability to offer the technology-enabled work environment that younger clinicians expect. Given the average cost of turnover for each bedside RN is $40,038, the return on investment is substantial from technology that improves care processes and patient safety, while helping to scale the nursing workforce.
Let technology free nurses to focus on patients
Two things haven’t changed through all the challenges in our current healthcare environment: People still need care and nurses are central to coordinating and delivering that care. A variety of technologies—device integration, workflow automation, real-time reports, and dashboards, and more—have been proven to deliver measurable improvements that support nurses in their work instead of adding to feelings of frustration and burnout. Consider the compounding positive impacts from freeing up 15% of nurses’ time. Now is the time for healthcare organizations to invest in modern technology that let nurses focus on what satisfies and inspires them: caring for patients and their families and helping other nurses grow in their chosen profession.
Mary Russell, MJ, BS, RN, is the Senior Director of Clinical Implementations for CliniComp.