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How to Improve Nurse Efficiency in Acute Settings

Key Findings

  1. What nurse efficiency is and why it is critical to healthcare organizations.
  2. Why nurse burnout and alarm fatigue are important issues to overcome, especially during the COVID-19 national health emergency.
  3. How Clinical Collaboration Platforms can improve nurse efficiency by simplifying the nurses’ tool belt and streamlining workflows.

In healthcare, decision-makers talk about how to improve nurse efficiency—especially today in acute settings. Hospitals across the United States are concerned about controlling costs and meeting the increasing demand caused by the national health emergency. And truthfully, discussions about improving nurse efficiency are essential, even vital because the impact of inefficient processes can be terrible for nurses and their patients.

What does the term “nurse efficiency” or “nursing efficiency” actually mean?

According to a study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care in May 2019, nursing efficiency “…includes more than only effective use of resources; it includes competent standard care in keeping with the Code of Ethics for the nursing profession, the effective interpersonal relationship/communication, the appropriate use of technology and adequate Nurse-Patient Ratio (Staffing). So if we break it down, identifying ways to improve nurse efficiency is all about understanding:

  • What resources a nurse has to provide competent care
  • How effective interpersonal relationship/communications are,
  • What technologies are in use and what appropriate use looks like
  • Whether those technologies are used appropriately
  • Whether the Nurse/Patient Ratio (Staffing) is adequate

In any acute setting, there are layers of existing processes and workflows for providing patient care. There are also layers of technology used to provide patient care and communicate with stakeholders across the enterprise. The technology used to track and update schedules, monitor patient status, update patient health records, test results, share imaging and electronic health records, etc. In many hospitals, technological resources are a combination of old, even outdated tech, with newer solutions, patchworked together to save cost.

Hovering over all of this is the expectation of maintaining HIPAA compliance and protecting patient privacy while under immense pressure to provide a fast and accurate response to physicians, other nurses, the patients themselves, the pharmacy, hospital administrators, and the patients’ family members.

You begin to see what our nurses are dealing with, don’t you? Nurse efficiency is vital, not only for the patient or the hospital but for the nurses. Nursing today isn’t just about providing patient care. It’s about managing these layers of workflows, various devices, alarms, and alerts, and communicating to a vast array of people with questions that call for fast answers.

 

Nurses: The backbone of the U.S. healthcare industry.

Consider this statement from Mercer University: “At around 3 million strong, nurses are the backbone of the U.S. healthcare industry, as well as its largest profession. Consistently ranked the most trusted profession in America year after year, nurses play an increasingly large role not just in providing care but in the administrative side of healthcare.” Nurses today are responsible for relaying vital patient information, updating electronic health records (EHRs), monitoring the equipment in use in caring for the patient, communicating with patient families, other members of the patient care team—and more.

Addressing the administrative side of nursing means taking a close look at what that aspect of nursing has become. For example, take a case where a nurse has observed a change in his or her patient’s health or demeanor. Or has been given private information, something the patient didn’t feel comfortable sharing with the doctor. Or has just gotten test results back and needs to convey something with the covering provider.. Just this one thing, this patient update can take a lot of time. Time spent trying to find the person who needs to get the update. Depending on the hospital, or department’s, scheduling protocol, the nurse may need to wade through schedules, update, make calls, leave voice mails, and send text messages. All while managing as many as six or seven other patients with all of their individual needs. And again, the Spector of maintaining HIPAA compliance means that nurses know they are expected to operate within HIPAA guidelines to protect their patient’s confidential information. But many times, it becomes a battle between following guidelines and sending a quick text message on what may or may not be a protected and HIPAA-compliant platform or device.

 

Nurse burnout and alarm fatigue

This brings us to the genuine issue of nurse burnout and alarm fatigue. As I have written in other posts, we know that a leading cause of nurse burnout is the time spent performing non-patient care activities. A constant onslaught of paperwork, staff meetings, and chasing down physicians and colleagues, and responding to alerts, phone calls, and text messages throughout their shift prevents or distract nurses from doing what they got into healthcare to do: Help patients.

Nurses, most of them, get into nursing to help people. As a whole, they tend to be compassionate and caring individuals for whom nursing is a calling as much as it is a profession. And we demand a lot from them today. Too much, in my opinion. The statistics around nurse burnout highlight that reality. According to an article published on MedCity News, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, “63% of hospital nurses reported experiencing burnout, a state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by long periods of stress.”

Improving nurse efficiency, reworking, and streamlining the workflows and communications platforms that occupy a nurse’s shift is vital. Our country is dealing with the national health emergency, COVID-19. Let’s look at how we can improve nurse efficiency, help save nurse sanity, and retain our valued nurses.

 

How Clinical Collaboration Platforms can improve nurse efficiency.

Clinical Collaboration Platforms (CCPs,) also referred to as Clinical Communication Platforms, provide a host of real benefits to the nurses in acute settings. A growing number of hospitals are introducing these cloud-based, mobile communication platforms to unify and streamline clinical workflows and communications. CCPs pull all of the disparate Communication streams, tools, and apps into one platform, available on the mobile devices nurses are already using. This reduction in the number of applications and pieces of equipment nurses manage as part of their “Nurses’ tool belt” lessens interruptions to patient care, reduces “alert fatigue,” improves the quality of care, and reduces the potential for nurse burnout.

Simplifying the Nurses’ Tool Belt

A cloud-based CCP can be used to streamline essential workflows that, in the past, have been time-consuming and frustrating to work within. Case in point, most nurses, carry what we call the “nurses’ tool belt,” a range of devices for monitoring voice calls, texts, EHR updates, and equipment alarms and alerts. Juggling response time to multiple devices and alarms and messaging is problematic. Each time an alarm goes off or someone sends a message, the nurse is interrupted. The nurse has to quickly determine which device needs attention or whether they are dealing with an emergency. Multiply this reality times several devices and messaging for as many eight patients, and it becomes madness. A cloud-based, mobile CCP can eliminate the nurse’s tool belt, streamlining communications, and providing easy access to everything the nurse needs for communications across the entire health system.

Role-based messaging and scheduling functionalities

The right Clinical Collaboration Platform simplifies a nurse’s workflow in other, equally valuable ways. No longer does that nurse have to waste innumerable minutes trying to track down colleagues or search through multiple updates of on-call schedules. The CCP can make it easy and straightforward to find the right clinician at the right time, reducing the time spent in chasing colleagues and freeing that time up to spend time with the patients.

Like Halo Health, some of the most effective CCPs provide scheduling functionality within the platform, which eliminates the time previously spent updating and noting scheduling changes like vacations, sick time, and the shift swapping that is a regular aspect of scheduling. For nurses, knowing they will get to the right person who is on call eliminates an entire category of worry and stress.

Making voice calls and sending texts without fear of violating HIPAA compliance

Most nurses try to comply with existing regulations. Protecting a patient’s personal health information is something nurses take very seriously. But under duress, in the heat of a shift filled with interruptions and the management of multiple patients, nurses can resort to using text messaging. But text messaging outside of a HIPAA-compliant platform is a violation of the HIPAA regulations. The best mobile clinical collaboration platforms are also HIPAA-compliant and provide instant access to a single, unified mobile app and device for multiple communication channels, including:

  • Secure text messaging
  • VoIP calling
  • Critical results
  • Physiologic Monitor Alarms
  • Nurse-call

Nurses can receive real-time notifications and respond with texts and voice calls, all within the same HIPAA-compliant platform, eliminating the need to jump around between multiple apps.

With these examples, we see how unifying communications with a CCP also streamlines the related workflows, which reduces stress and the potential for burnout for the nurses and captures cost savings for the hospital administrators and decision-makers and their stakeholders.

 

Our nurses operate on the front lines of healthcare.

Remember, we often describe nurses as “…serving on the front lines of healthcare — the first to notice when a patient’s condition has changed or to spring into action in a critical situation,” reminds Mercer University ABSN. We’re also reminded that “…skilled nurses know that taking the time to get to know patients can be extremely helpful in uncovering important health information — information patients might not offer up otherwise.” We want to protect a nurse’s ability to be present with the patient, to be able to focus on the patient and to be able to communicate easily and seamlessly at all times.

Mind you, I advocate for the thoughtful analysis of how an enterprise or department directs its messaging. The advantage of implementing a CCP can be diluted if a hospital’s nurses are still getting inundated by wave upon wave of alarms and alerts and messages—but now on a single device. Taking a thoughtful and analytical approach to your installation and reviewing who is required to receive which messages are essential components of real workflow simplification. In my opinion, these reviews are as valuable, in the long run, to retaining an organization’s trained and talented nurses as the installation of the Clinical Collaboration Platform. Combining these is how healthcare enterprises across the country are improving nurse efficiency today.

Is your organization interested in learning more about the benefits of a CCP?
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