Avoiding a Crisis: Improving Clinical Workflows

To Relieve Nursing Shortages, Lower Burnout Rates

By Will O’Connor, MD, Chief Medical Information Officer, TigerConnect
Twitter: @TigerConnect

This nation faces a nursing shortage. The data is stark and frightening. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) reported that approximately 100,000 registered nurses left the profession during the COVID-19 pandemic, with another 610,388 planning to leave by 2027 due to “stress, burnout and retirement.”

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that nursing turnover rates range from about 9 percent to 37 percent, depending on the region of the country. NIH pulled no punches in describing the ramifications: “Nursing shortages lead to errors, higher morbidity, and mortality rates. In hospitals with high patient-to-nurse ratios, nurses experience burnout, dissatisfaction, and the patients experienced higher mortality and failure-to-rescue rates than facilities with lower patient-to-nurse ratios.”

To paraphrase one aspect of NIH’s pronouncement, the nursing experience will only get worse as long as we expect them to operate in dysfunctional environments. Nurses are often at the mercy of bad communications and inefficient workflows that produce burnout over time. It happens to experienced professionals who can’t take it anymore and to new nurses who expected a more efficient process for delivering care.

Poor communications = lower quality care

It is said that nurses are the backbone of the American healthcare industry. Care providers are often extremely dedicated people, tirelessly devoted to helping patients. Unfortunately, as the front line of care, they also bear the brunt of an imperfect system.

Poor communication is at the root of over 70% of sentinel events and is linked to over $1.7 billion in malpractice claims over five years. In theory, it shouldn’t be difficult to connect with the right clinician or department to get a consult, check on critical labs, or perform dozens of other tasks expected of nurses. In practice, it can be incredibly frustrating. I talk to nurses all across the country, and their stories are all too familiar, including:

  • Delays in care due to waiting on responses from doctors and other departments
  • Difficulty communicating with teams outside a unit
  • Challenges even finding the right on-call or on-duty physicians and then getting a response
  • Difficulty knowing when tasks or tests are completed
  • Too many incompatible communication systems used by different clinical staff

When workflows and communication methods are unstructured or inadequate, the related ripple effects will extend to every corner of the healthcare organization. The consequences can include patients waiting longer to receive care, decreased patient satisfaction and outcomes, and internal conflicts between staff within healthcare organizations.

And these communication barriers are playing out while nurses have patients depending on them for care. What if we could streamline the workflow and embed it in a communications tool that everyone – doctors, nurses, support staff, administration – carries?

Unifying the clinical communication experience

That’s exactly what leading institutions are doing with clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) platforms. The smartphone is ubiquitous among staff. They live much of their lives through them. Hospitals can harness that familiar tool, along with user-friendly communication applications, to improve care team communication and streamline workflows.

The overall platform (the smartphone app and the cloud-based engine behind it) can deliver:

  • Real-time communication: CC&C platforms, enabling real-time messaging via secure SMS, voice, and video, can connect staff directly (using their roles not their names to find them), broadcast information to teams, and make it all work with the push of a button.
  • Information-rich collaboration: Patient situations can be married to EHR data or augmented by video and pictures so consultations are accelerated. Because everyone in a care team can see the same information at the same time, the time-consuming data dumps whenever someone enters a room can be curtailed.
  • End-to-end security: And it’s all secure. This security can extend to patient communication as well so that patients and their families can feel informed rather than frustrated.

By reducing administrative burdens and enhancing efficiency, these technologies aim to empower nurses, allowing them to focus more on providing direct patient care while prioritizing their own physical and mental well-being.

Integrating a hospital system’s data with a CC&C platform is vital in facilitating clinical collaboration. EHR systems, telemedicine platforms, and mobile applications enable the real-time sharing of patient information, test results, and treatment plans across different departments and locations. This seamless data flow ensures that nurses and all relevant healthcare providers are well-informed and on the same page regarding patient care.

Toward a stronger backbone of the healthcare system

The NCSBN report states that “the future of nursing and of the US healthcare ecosystem is at an urgent crossroads.” Fortunately, new technologies are intersecting that crossroads.

We won’t solve the nursing shortage overnight. But we can avoid a crisis by improving the working lives of the nurses we have and delivering a better experience to the nurses getting into the field to help people. CC&C platforms can unify the communication experience of all hospital staff and relieve the unique burdens of nurses everywhere.