By Cindy Gaines, MSN, RN, Chief Clinical Transformation Officer, Lumeon
The strike earlier this year by 7,000 nurses at two large New York City hospitals shines a light on the crisis caused by persistent nurse staffing shortages, not due exclusively to the pandemic. Nurse vacancy rates are at all-time highs with most hospitals (51.4%) reporting rates over 15%. The industry knew well before the pandemic that the shortage was coming as the number of nurses reaching retirement age outpaced the number of nurses entering the profession. Add to that the swell of aging baby boomers, and the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the U.S. needs more than 275,000 additional nurses from 2020 to 2030.
The growing crisis accelerated when the pandemic hit as nurses retired or left in droves due to fatigue and burnout, a problem that continues to grow. According to Medscape’s annual Nurse Career Satisfaction Report released in December, at least 36% of RNs and LPNs reported being burned out or very burned out – and that sentiment was reported by at least 25% of nurses overall. Not only does this raise patient safety concerns, but turnover is very expensive. Every bedside nurse who is lost costs a hospital $52,350.
When nearly 30% of RNs and LPNs said that making a difference in people’s lives is the most rewarding aspect of the job, what can be done to unburden nurses from unnecessary work, shift their focus back to patient care and thereby increase retention? One approach is to employ care orchestration technology that uses automation in three ways to materially reduce the workload and help nurses focus on what makes their jobs efficient and satisfying:
- Reduce manual tasks: Such technology takes real-time data, applies clinical knowledge and existing best practices, to automate manual steps in care delivery. The result is that routine tasks – such as gathering patient intake information – can be assigned to the best resource, whether that’s the patient or a non-clinical staff member. When you consider that a 30-minute intake call can be replaced by sending a digital form to the patient and writing that information back into the EHR, the time savings can be significant. Removing repetitive, rote work, like calling patients for scheduling and intake, lets nurses focus on higher-value patient interactions.
- Simplify each step in the care journey: Following the organization’s evidence-based care protocols, while eliminating manual tasks, simplifies the care journey. Each action can be coordinated using the most-appropriate means for each patient, making digital interactions efficient and personal interactions with nurses and staff high-impact moments. Each action is documented, so uncompleted tasks can trigger appropriate follow up, keeping patients, their families, and all members of the care team moving in sync toward the desired outcomes.
- Enable seamless patient experiences: Lastly, this technology is designed to deliver a personalized experience, ensuring that each care team member, including patients and their families, has all the information needed to achieve the best care outcomes. Integration with the EHR ensures that information already on record for the patient is seamlessly taken into account. For example, before scheduling a patient for surgery, if an X-ray is required and the patient’s record shows a recent result that fits the criteria, a new image isn’t necessary and the nurse did not have to track that down. At each step, automation uses data to drive the best next action, whether that action is an automated task or an intervention by staff – allowing more time for the most-rewarding human interactions. Throughout the process, patients feel known and supported by their care teams, leading to higher patient satisfaction.
Now is not the time to take the historical tack of requiring nurses to “do more with less.” And technology tasked to make workflows easier shouldn’t have the opposite effect. Retaining and attracting nurses to the profession requires a fresh approach. Thoughtfully automating routine and mundane tasks can free up nurses to deliver more individualized care and spend time with those patients who need it most – letting nurses do what they became nurses to do.
Cindy Gaines, MSN, RN, is the chief clinical transformation officer at Lumeon.