Digital Health Technology Can Improve Nurse Turnover, Reduce Burnout
You've heard about the nursing shortage, and if you work in a healthcare facility, you've felt its effects firsthand.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing shortages have left nurses with a high workload. Not only are nurses responsible for caring for more patients, but they must take on additional nonclinical tasks.
Find out how digital health technology can ease the burden to make nurses' lives easier and their jobs more enjoyable.
4 Ways Digital Health Technology Can Impact Nursing
Can you imagine what your workflow would be like without a pneumatic tube system to send labs? You'd have to abandon patients for several minutes to walk their blood work down to the lab. For some patients, being left alone could be a matter of life and death.
Consider how other types of healthcare technology affect patient safety and your nursing workflow.
Let's say the lab calls you with a critically low electrolyte level on the blood work you sent. As the nurse, you're responsible for notifying the provider, verifying orders, administering the electrolyte replacement, and documenting everything you just did.
Depending on which type of health information system your facility uses, this process could take a few minutes or a few hours.
Nurses don't have time to spend on slow processes in the current healthcare climate. Patient safety depends on the technology a healthcare facility uses.
Digital health technology can't and shouldn't replace nurses, but it can reduce their burden and improve workflow. When healthcare facilities invest in useful technology, they allow nurses to get back to doing what they came to do — take care of patients.
Here are some ways healthcare technology may help reduce nurse burnout and turnover.
1. Technology Improves Nurse Retention Rates
LouAnn Bala, MSN, RN, is the chief nursing officer and vice president of clinical programs at Get Well, a digital health service that helps patients have a better healthcare experience. In her 20+ years as a nurse, she's used her clinical expertise and leadership to advocate for healthcare change.
Bala says nurses faced challenges for many years leading up to the pandemic. Unsafe working conditions were common before the pandemic, including:
- Inadequate staffing
- Workplace violence
- Mandatory overtime
The COVID-19 pandemic only made those problems worse.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the crisis, causing many nurses to choose different career paths, alternative and remote work options, and early retirement," Bala says.
In a 2021 study by Healthcare IT News, 72% of nurses reported experiencing burnout before the pandemic. An alarming 90% of nurses stated they were considering leaving the profession altogether.
Bala says poor nurse retention has been an issue for hospitals for decades, but technology can help. She says digital health technology can "automate and supplement nursing strategies" to:
- Increase job satisfaction and productivity
- Maintain regulatory compliance
- Help with employee retention
With quality digital health technology systems in place, healthcare facilities can:
- Improve systems
- Reduce risk events
- Empower patients to actively participate in their care
- Remove nonclinical tasks, allowing nurses to focus on patient care instead of labor-intensive administrative ones
By fixing processes to improve nursing workflow, technology helps nurses spend more quality time with patients. This is essential for creating job satisfaction and reducing nurse turnover.
Replacing a nurse comes with a hefty price tag, costing hospitals between $22,000 and $64,000.
2. Technology Reduces Nurse Burnout and Medical Errors
Digital health technology can help place another set of eyes on patients when resources are limited. With virtual monitoring services like tele-intensive care unit and telesitter programs, nurses have an additional safety net to ensure patients are monitored.
"These programs supplement in-house resources and can create efficiencies of scale while reducing risk and overall cost of care," Bala says.
Risk-reducing measures are key to helping nurses deliver safe care and prevent burning out.
Medication administration is a high-risk nursing responsibility, but it can be made safer with technology. When giving medications, nurses follow a series of safety checks. Many of these happen before the nurse has medication in hand.
For example, when a provider enters a medication order, a health information system may incorporate best-practice alerts. If the medication is considered high-risk, providers may see a pop-up warning to double-check the order. Similar warnings appear when pharmacists verify orders.
When nurses administer the medications, safety features are a part of the medication administration record to reduce the risk of patient harm. Technology like barcode scanning has been proven to significantly reduce adverse drug events.
Bala discusses the high-risk nature of medication administration.
"In a field where empathy and compassion are some of the most valuable skills, compassion fatigue can lead to dangerous consequences, including medical errors and healthcare inefficiency," she says.
No nurse plans to make a medication error, but inadequate nurse staffing and chaotic working conditions can lead to distractions and mistakes.
Bala says when medication errors are evaluated, the root causes are often related to bypassed systems. An example is a medication override, when a nurse bypasses a process to dispense medication. A medication override was a key factor that led to the recent Radonda Vaught case.
It's up to hospitals to have safeguards in place to prevent nurses from being in an unsafe situation.
"More digital tools that prevent the ability to bypass critical steps in the process are needed," Bala says.
With additional safeguards in place, medication delivery may take longer, but the process will be overall safer.
3. Technology Alleviates the Burden of Nursing Shortage
Increased nursing workloads are impacted by the nursing shortage and the shortage of all hospital staff. Clinical staff has left the nursing field in droves, leaving healthcare facilities to rely on temporary staffing.
"This increases nurse-to-patient ratios and only adds pressure and stress to frontline workers who have been working in nearly impossible conditions since March 2020," Bala says.
As nurses assume the role of nonclinical tasks, they're taken away from critical job duties like assessing patients and administering medications.
In the absence of ancillary hospital staff, nurses are now responsible for:
- Answering phones and call bells
- Delivering and removing meal trays
- Performing environmental services like taking out the trash and cleaning rooms
- Assisting patients with toileting, bathing, and feeding
Bala says to reduce nurse burnout, something must be done to offload these nonclinical tasks. With the help of digital health solutions, technology can act as "nurse extenders."
Some hospitals use mobile delivery robots to deliver medications, take specimens to the lab, and remove trash. These task-performing machines allow staff to perform other duties by reducing their workloads.
Technology can also be used to fill communication gaps between patients and healthcare providers. Instead of tasking nurses with updating whiteboards, healthcare facilities may use virtual whiteboards. This can help answer questions like who is on the patient's care team, the daily plan, and tests or procedures to expect.
"Don't underestimate the power of automating nonclinical communications," Bala says.
Providing this information to patients helps close the communication loop, reduce call bells, and free up the nurse to focus on critical nursing duties.
4. Technology Can Help Institutions Prioritize Nurse Mental Well-Being
The COVID-19 pandemic forced hospitals to reevaluate the way they plan staffing. Many hospitals use outdated staffing grids to decide how many nurses are needed for each shift.
With the use of digital health technology, hospitals can use predictive analytics to make judgment calls for staffing. Instead of using spreadsheets to manually predict how many nurses are needed to care for the patients on the unit, technology can provide real-time solutions to staffing.
This eliminates a guessing game while holding administrators accountable to adequately staff nursing units. With adequate staffing, nurses can provide safe care to patients instead of being overwhelmed about their workloads.
"This allows nursing institutions to focus on prioritizing the mental well-being of nurses by decreasing the pressure and stress on frontline workers," Bala says.
Additionally, digital health technology can help patients become active participants in their care. Bala says patients assist staff by helping themselves. At Get Well, she helps patients become active participants in their care and become empowered to manage their health.
"By putting patients in the driver's seat and helping to free up a nurse's time for higher-level tasks, technology can act as a true partner at a moment when patients, staff, and healthcare organizations need one the most," Bala says.
Healthcare facilities continue to face challenges related to the nursing shortage and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. While technology can help offload the burden on nurses, it's not the only solution.
Bala encourages nurses to use their voices to address the changes that need to take place in healthcare. When a process is outdated or inefficient, nurses can get involved to make improvements. Many hospitals offer nursing informatics workforces to collaborate on how to improve workflows through technology.
"With staff burnout high and frontline staff morale low, there is all the more reason to seize any opportunity for nurses to get involved in the digital health technology landscape," Bala says.
Meet Our Contributor
LouAnn Bala, CNO and VP of Clinical Programs at Get Well
LouAnn Bala is chief nursing officer and vice president of clinical programs at Get Well. As an experienced nursing leader and consultant, Bala has over two decades of progressive leadership and operational and clinical expertise in a variety of care settings. Her passion to improve the healthcare experience while reducing cost and health disparities is a central focus of her work at Get Well.
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