Can Technology Help Solve Healthcare’s Great Resignation?
Healthcare’s Great Resignation is driving headlines across the country, and creating unprecedented challenges to delivering a high-quality patient care experience. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly half a million healthcare workers have left their jobs since February 2020. That equates to nearly 1 in 5 healthcare workers who have quit during that time, says a study by Morning Consult. Alarmingly, another third has considered leaving.
Nursing Shortages Impact Patient Experience
Not only are healthcare workers themselves adversely impacted by the Great Resignation and resulting staffing shortages. Patients suffer as well.
An overwhelming majority of healthcare workers (79%) say the labor shortage has affected their workplace. “When asked to describe how they’d been affected by the shortages, many said their workloads had increased, sometimes leading to rushed or subpar care for patients,” the Morning Consult researchers noted. The resignations leave their remaining colleagues to care for increasing numbers of patients, sometimes as many as 8-10 patients in one RN’s care, University of Pennsylvania Nursing Professor Karen Lasater recently told Marketplace.
The healthcare workforce shortages are so alarming that many hospitals have turned to traveling nurses to fill gaps. Those well-paying positions and five-figure signing bonuses attract nurses who now are working in unfamiliar hospital settings, with ever-changing workflows to learn, new team members to collaborate with and unique processes to be trained on. While the traveling nurse may fill critical staffing needs, it may come at an efficiency price. Ultimately, that can mean a nurse is losing valuable time seeking answers, supplies or assistance – inefficiency that is costly to patient care and a positive experience.
The connection between adequate levels of registered nurse staffing and safe patient care is well documented.
- One study found that when more than four patients were assigned to an RN in pediatric hospitals, the likelihood of hospital readmissions increased significantly.
- Another study showed that increasing a nurse’s patient load by just one patient was associated with higher rates of infection. The authors conclude that reducing burnout can improve the well-being of nurses and the quality of patient care.
- A 2020 study found a 16% increase in mortality rates for every one-patient increase in nurse workloads
Can Technology Help Improve Nurse Satisfaction?
The reasons for the Great Nursing Resignation are many: compensation, retirement, exhaustion, stress, overwork, burnout are high among them. While the answers are as complex as the questions, there’s no denying that hospitals must make the job of nursing easier if they want to attract and retain long-term, loyal, satisfied nurses. That requires rethinking how nursing work gets down – with greater efficiency, less redundancy and fewer demands for non-value add tasks.
Technology is not the sole prescription for a healthier nurse staffing environment but undoubtedly it holds significant promise as part of the cure. Let’s explore three ways technology can help improve nurse efficiency – and ultimately, nurse satisfaction.
“Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionize healthcare and help address some of the challenges set out above,” according to McKinsey & Company in a recent Executive Briefing. “AI can lead to better care outcomes and improve the productivity and efficiency of care delivery. It can also improve the day-to-day life of healthcare practitioners, letting them spend more time looking after patients and in so doing, raise staff morale and improve retention.”
McKinsey’s researchers highlighted 23 ways that AI is being used in healthcare to improve patient care and staff efficiency. They include things like apps that help patients manage their own care, virtual agents that can carry out tasks in hospitals, and tools that optimize scheduling and bed management, among others.
AI and machine learning can also help clinicians identify trends and anticipate patient needs. Take, for instance, a patient admitted with housing insecurity. Using AI, the patient could be flagged at admission, something electronic medical record systems don’t do.
“Some in the healthcare industry believe that artificial intelligence can reduce inefficiencies endemic in hospital administration in its delivery of care,” says AI research firm Emerj. However, adoption has been slow. “Today, AI has only nascent traction in healthcare, even in the most developed countries.”
Non-surgical, intelligent robots are being integrated into hospital settings to augment human staff, and handle routine tasks. The fact that healthcare systems see tremendous potential value in robotics is clear from the dollars: Global market sales are expected to top $24.6 billion by 2025.
The use of robots as an extra set of helping hands for overworked and short-staffed nurses is no gimmick, says HealthTech magazine. “Is there a robot that you could see on the hospital floor delivering drugs or towels or a meal to a patient? That is actually something that’s been picking up,” says Remy Glaisner, research director for worldwide robotics at IDC.
And robots aren’t just relegated to major hospitals in large metropolitan areas. In West Texas’ Shannon Medical Center in San Angelo, robots are taking routine tasks off of nurses – things like retrieving and delivering medications, PPE, lab samples and other supplies. The robots can even pick up and deliver select personal belongings for patients.
Even with an electronic health record, many manual processes still exist outside the EHR. For example, a care coordinator trying to find a post-acute care bed for a patient is reliant on old-fashioned manual processes – picking up the phone and calling around.
Automating those processes using integrated technology saves the nurse time and empowers the healthcare workforce. Rather than getting out the phonebook to seek out skilled nursing beds, an automated care transitions using the hospital’s interactive patient experience platform can intelligently identify available post-acute care beds within a certain area and in the patient’s insurance network.
Automated discharge planning, integrating the EHR, ADT and interactive platform, take the guesswork out of the nurse’s discharge planning duties. Each step toward discharge readiness is tracked through the interactive platform’s checklist, with a visible real-time reminder of steps to be completed directly on the patient’s TV and integrated into the patient’s care plan.
Automation also takes the pressure off the nurse call button, mitigating nurse interruptions for non-clinical care requests. The Sentrics E3 Patient Experience Platform automates the patient’s ability to make real-time requests for services that improve their stay, whether it is for a blanket, meal delivery, temperature change, chaplain visit or more. Those requests go directly to the appropriate ancillary department, bypassing a stressed nursing staff.
Automated technology, integrated with hospital systems, also reduces time nurses must spend in manually seeking out and communicating data to patients about their care plan. Digital whiteboards, like Sentrics E3’s, are replacing traditional manual dry-erase boards with near-real time clinical data delivered to the patient directly on the TV.
And then there’s the paperwork burden. Regis College says decreasing the paperwork burden for nurses is one critical key to attracting and retaining nurses. “Because of documentation requirements, some nurses feel they spend more time completing paperwork than working with patients. Adjusting paperwork requirements with innovative, dynamic technology and better policies could allow nurses to do what’s most important with more care, compassion, and energy: engaging directly with patients.”
But how? Automated, integrated systems are the imperative. Technology that streamlines workflows – like integrating interactive health education into the EMR, enabling the nurse to automate education assignment, and automating education write back directly into the EMR — reduces documentation inefficiencies.
Keys to Effectively Using Technology to Improve Nursing Efficiency
With a proliferation of healthcare technology, how can a hospital ensure that the technology it chooses will be effective in improving nurse efficiency and satisfaction? Start by choosing technology that is human centered, and has been vetted by both patients and clinicians.
Armed with the right technology—one that passes a human-centric design test—you can improve patient experience and nurse retention. When choosing human-centered technology, consider these questions:
- Is it hospital-specific? It’s vital that every piece of technology is built specifically to address the needs of nurses and patients.
- Has it been vetted by nurses? Seek out the nurse’s voice in your evaluation. Is this a solution that truly improves nurse efficiency – or adds more work to their plate? You can empower your nurses and make them feel heard by creating an open line of communication around all technology adoption. A willingness to foster an open conversation between hospital leadership and frontline healthcare workers demonstrates that you care about what they have to say and reassures them that you’re only adopting solutions that alleviate the issues they’re facing.
- Is it easy for patients to use? If the technology is patient-facing, has it passed the patient/family test for human centeredness? Because if a patient finds it too difficult to use or not of value, a nurse is wasting valuable time educating the patient on its use.
Technology holds great promise for helping improve nurse efficiency, satisfaction and retention. It may not be the lone panacea for stopping the mass exodus of nurses. But, technology can be a critical component in helping stressed and short-staffed nursing teams get back to doing what they do best, caring for patients.
Learn how your hospital can apply the power of technology to improve clinical and hospital efficiency. Download the Clinical Efficiency Checklist.