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By Danielle Updegraff
The World Health Organization designated 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in recognition of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday, while the American Nurses Association expanded National Nurses Week into a month-long event. At the time, no one could predict the changes would coincide with a public health crisis that would touch every corner of the globe.
Both organizations decided to extend these celebrations into 2021 – and deservedly so. Nurses have been on the frontline of the pandemic from the beginning and have remained there ever since. Even before the pandemic, it was no secret that nurses were suffering from burnout due to the nationwide nursing shortage, which has only been exacerbated by the circumstances of the past year. In a survey from Berxi, a division of Berkshire Hathaway, nearly half of healthcare workers said they considered leaving their position, making a career change, or retiring early as a result of stressors stemming from COVID-19.
Whether they’re celebrating a week or the entire month of May this year, most healthcare organizations have programs planned to show their appreciation for nurses, but perhaps this year calls for more. With vaccine rollouts allowing us to imagine life after the pandemic – and the heroism of nurses fresh in our minds – there has never been a more opportune time for healthcare leaders to consider how they can better support nursing staff and the critical work they do to keep our communities safe year-round.
Benefits of investing in nurses
After more than a year of unprecedented sacrifice, lightening nurses’ workloads is paramount to combating burnout and targeting staff retention. As hospitals and other healthcare facilities begin recuperating from the financial fallout of COVID-19, healthcare leaders will find that investing in nurses also makes good business sense. It is also arguably just the right thing to do.
Automating nurse call systems is a relatively simple solution that delivers outsized benefits. Improving any clinical workflow process stands to increase operational efficiency, and call systems are one of a few universal tools impacting the majority of nurses, regardless of their specialty. At Mater Health, an automated call system decreased response time from an average of five to three minutes. A nurse unit manager from the organization said the solution, “has given Mater nurses the ability to better manage and allocate resources.”
While tokens of appreciation are thoughtful, freeing up nurses’ time to focus on patient care is likely to have a more substantial and long-term impact on employee satisfaction. Making nurses feel supported and equipped to do their jobs could reduce the alarming number of employees considering leaving the profession and help healthcare systems avoid the significant costs that come with recruitment and training.
Mechanics of call automation
Nurse call automation involves integrating a real-time location system (RTLS) with a separate nurse call system. Adding location data to a nurse call solution strengthens communication between nurses and patients. Some RTLS platforms also leverage data collection to streamline reporting and provide actionable analytics, enabling team leaders and administrators to examine how care is delivered and identify ways to improve processes and procedures.
These integrations use a network of connected sensors placed in patient rooms in conjunction with RTLS-enabled staff badges. Though the mechanics are fairly easy to follow, it’s important to pair these devices with clinical-grade locating technology. WiFi and BLE are perfectly suitable in other scenarios, but room-level precision is critical for this application.
When a nurse or similar caregiver enters a patient’s room, instead of having to navigate an obstacle course comprised of medical equipment to hit a call cancellation button, their badge automatically sends a signal that cancels the call and notes the time of their arrival. They can go straight to assessing the patient’s needs – creating a better experience for both parties.
At the same time, a light in the corridor illuminates, communicating to other care team members that a caregiver is present and using specific colors to denote the responding caregiver’s role. When the staff member exits the room, the light shuts off and the system records the amount of time they spent with the patient.
RTLS can also help with rounding and records. Some systems can track how long it’s been since a care team member has entered a patient’s room and send automated reminders when rounding is overdue, while automated data collection can reduce the portion of each shift nurses spend on rounding logs and similar forms of manual documentation.
A foundation for RTLS
For many healthcare leaders, nurse call automation is just the beginning – a convenient entry point for embracing RTLS. After seeing a meaningful return on their initial investment, they are able to better appreciate its potential and willing to consider additional RTLS use cases.
Selecting an RTLS partner with a comprehensive suite of solutions makes it easier to expand the system to other aspects of healthcare operations in the future. There are a wide variety of applications; some benefiting nurses include asset management, which curbs the time spent (and frustration caused by) searching for equipment; electronic hand-hygiene monitoring and contact tracing for infection control; and security solutions to assist employees under duress, giving staff members invaluable peace of mind.
The pandemic has drawn attention to the importance of healthcare professionals and the pressures they face in the name of the greater good. As the backbone of patient care, nurses need and deserve the on-going support of their colleagues and employers. Investing in modern solutions like nurse call automation demonstrates an understanding of the demands of their role and a true appreciation for their contribution.
Danielle Updegraff, BSN, RN, is a clinical nurse educator at CenTrak, the market leader in locating, sensing, and security solutions for the healthcare industry and a visionary in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for indoor location services. Updegraff has more than 20 years of experience as an RN. Prior to joining CenTrak, she managed third-party technologies at a large integrated delivery network, including nurse call automation, asset tracking, and hand hygiene monitoring. For more information, visit www.centrak.com.