Here’s a familiar tale:
The ICU wing of your hospital only has 50% of its nursing staff, but all the beds are full. Downstairs, there’s a waiting room full of people. Some have been there all night. Some arrived early this morning. And statistically, some most likely have COVID-19. Some of the people waiting to be admitted are angry at the wait, and almost all of them are scared. The morning shift of nurses begin to arrive. They see the waiting room, and even if they hadn’t guessed before, they know it will be a long day. All the days are long.
The nurses’ faces are drawn and tight under their masks. It’s been two years of COVID-19 rush, and even before that, staffing had been low. At the beginning of the pandemic, many seasoned nurses knew it was time to step away. They had been on the floor for 30-35 years, and they wanted to leave before things got worse—not knowing just how bad it would get. So, 30+ years of experience left the wing. New nursing graduates were harder to come by, but a few signed on and began orientation. Ten months later they were gone. Some cited mental health, family concerns, and fear. Others said they had watched their mentors leave for higher paying travel nurse jobs or felt like every question they asked was a nuisance to the overworked team that was left. They all cited burnout. The hospital had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on onboarding and had fewer nurses than before. They had to reduce capacity again, and the waiting room got fuller.
Breaking the Cycle
How can hospitals break the staffing cycle? Many organizations have hired travel nurses as a stopgap measure, but those sky-rocketing salaries aren’t sustainable and eventually every travel nurse will move on to their next contract. However, innovative technology can be a flexible solution to bridge the gap, bring trained professionals back into the industry (a new nursing gig economy), and take tasks away from floor staff, allowing them to focus on care: introducing Telenursing.
Telenursing brings a new level of flexibility to nursing roles, and allows hospitals to diversify their nursing teams for specific tasks. These virtual, remote roles can utilize trained professionals that have left nursing because of burnout, retirement, injury, or family needs, but who still have a passion for healing patients. And with VirtuSense’s acute solution, VSTOne, digital nurses are integrated into every hospital room seamlessly using HIPAA-compliant audio and video built directly into the remote monitoring and telemetry system.
Step 1: Efficient Teams
Hospitals can utilize telenursing to create efficient teams that focus on specific tasks, taking those responsibilities away from floor staff. For example, a digital nursing team can take on the patient admission and discharge processes, saving unit nurses hours of work each day. Having a digital team handling tasks like taking patient histories, medication reconciliation, information hand offs, organizing discharge approvals, confirming ongoing care with case managers, and communicating with the patient and their family about their discharge, ensures that patients are getting more one-on-one time with caregivers and admission and discharge are treated as a priority. This ensures that beds are turned over for new patients efficiently, increasing hospital capacity and getting people into care sooner.
What’s more, telenurses can become the go-to contact for patients and their families. In hospitals, nurses have the most face-to-face interaction with patients. With staffing shortages cutting down on that connection time, patients can feel dismissed, confused, or helpless. Digital nurses can step in to connect with patients and families through video call check-ins, without pressure to respond to an emergency for another patient. This repairs hospital relationships to patients and creates more confidence and comfort throughout care.
Step 2: Onboarding and Mentorship for Retention
Telenursing with VSTOne also creates a structure for an intentional nurse onboarding program that doesn’t solely rely on unit nurses to mentor new hires while handling full patient loads. Virtual mentors and preceptors can be present with new nurses via video calls to patient rooms, allowing new nurses to ask questions and receive feedback as they care for patients. An ideal transition role for senior nurses who have the most experience to share, virtual mentors oversee new nurses and catch errors, protecting patients and the hospital from liability. As a trainee nurse becomes more confident and comfortable, the virtual mentor can take more of a background role, providing second opinions, guiding the use of high-risk medications, and advising on nursing best practices, as well as conducting subjective and objective assessments.
This one-on-one support allows nursing graduates to dive into practical nursing with a knowledgeable guide to share their experiences with. With entrenched support, new nurses will feel empowered to learn and grow at their hospital, stay in the nursing field, and flourish as confident, efficient unit nurses who bond with their hospital community, instead of being alienated by it.
The healthcare industry has seen more and more technology woven into standard processes and procedures, often to the benefit of patients, nurses, doctors, and administrators. Fully utilizing the telehealth model for nursing is a first step to creating a new framework for nursing by broadening roles and diversifying responsibilities. The nursing shortage requires that hospitals take steps today to support their nursing teams, and, in a labor shortage, technology can be a powerful tool to bridge the gap and begin to climb back to normal hospital capacity.
This article was originally published on the VirtuSense blog and is republished here with permission.