The COVID-19 pandemic took a huge toll on front-line workers, especially those in the healthcare field. Nurses in particular felt the effects of heavy workloads, long hours, and pandemic-related stress, all of which have pushed more and more of them to leave the profession. A recent study by the International Council of Nurses (CN) reported that 20 percent of its National Nurses Associations (NNAs) saw an increased departure rate in 2020, compounding a global nursing shortage that had already plagued the profession before the outbreak.
CN Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton said in a press release that the new data shows that difficulty in retaining experienced senior nursing staff, a side effect of the pandemic that was expected to occur in the long term, is happening now:
“The COVID Effect on the global nursing workforce, coupled with the current shortage of six million nurses and a further four million heading for retirement by 2030, could see the global nursing workforce of 27 million nurses being depleted by ten million, or even halved.”
Can technology help stem the exodus of nurses leaving the field?
A variety of technological advances in healthcare—including wearables, mobile apps, remote patient monitoring, and artificial intelligence (AI)—are just some of the tools that can make nurses’ jobs easier.
Mobile nurse staffing apps provide more effective operations because they do away with back-and-forth phone calls between hospitals and nurses. Through data learning, these apps can study a nurse’s preferred shifts and push customized notifications to nurses, alerting them as to when their preferred shift times are available, keeping them more engaged and keen to take on more work.
Many hospitals have also integrated multiple streams of communication into one time-saving system. Nurses wear headsets or badges that allow them to communicate with colleagues and patients in real time. These systems provide alerts in emergencies and upload patient data to emergency medical responder (EMR) systems automatically. Wearable technology lets nurses scan barcodes on patients’ bedsides to provide accurate data on vitals, medical history, medications, allergies, and test results.
Other technologies incorporate sensors and computer chips into hospital mattresses, bedding, and blankets that can monitor movement, weight, blood pressure, and other data to inform both doctors and nurses of patients’ conditions and progress.
An electronic health record (EHR)—an electronic version of a patient’s medical history—often includes all key administrative data relevant to their care and is automated, which can streamline nurses’ workflows and save time. The EHR can also support additional care-related activities, including evidence-based decision support, quality management, and outcomes reporting. EHRs can improve the relationship between patients and medical staff and often reduce the incidence of medical errors by improving the accuracy of medical records, making them clear and readily accessible. Electronic record-keeping helps RNs improve efficiency and communicate more effectively with patients.
Telehealth, or the use of telemedicine technology to provide and support healthcare when distance separates the participants, allows nurses to provide patient monitoring, education, follow-up care, pain management, and other critical care to patients who have limited access to hospitals and clinics. Remote care also cuts down on the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and other diseases, and telehealth is a valuable tool in managing chronic illnesses. Most importantly, it reduces healthcare costs by decreasing ER visits and hospital admissions. And it eases the burden of stress from overwhelmed nurses already stretched thin amidst the nursing shortage.
Another tech tool that aids nurses is AI software that can predict emergency department volume and admissions based on historical patient volumes and other events, like a heavy flu season. Using electronic scheduling tools, nurses can create an ideal schedule to meet their personal needs as well as patients’ needs.
Some nurses have doubts about new technology, saying that it removes personal interaction away from the bedside, but in a recent survey conducted by LinkedIn of more than 600 nurses, 82 percent said they have a somewhat or very positive view of how technology is affecting patient care. Nurses at an offsite clinical operations center operated by New York-Presbyterian are using smart-bed technology to ensure that patients are moving enough and tracking the temperature on the refrigerators that store medication. Inside its network of hospitals, AI scans information from electronic medical records to determine the next steps in care, and nurses receive a text message-like alert on their phones when a step has been missed.
Rosemary Ventura, New York-Presbyterian’s chief nursing informatics officer, told LinkedIn News the technology is “really cutting-edge” and added, “This is where we’re going.”
As technology advances in nursing continue, ongoing education for nurses already in the profession remains a key component in closing gaps in medical facilities’ nursing needs. More colleges and universities are providing education programs, specifically in nursing. And online education provides a way for nurses to obtain a degree while working full-time.
As COVID-19 continues to be a threat, experts predict that people will develop an even greater reliance on digital tools. AI, apps, and software are increasingly being integrated into hospitals, and educating nurses on new technology will be critical.
Joel Landau, is founder and chairman of The Allure Group, a network of six New York City-based nursing homes.