There are more than three times as many registered nurses (RNs) in the United States as physicians — a count of nearly four million RNs — making nursing the nation’s largest healthcare profession. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nurses:
- Make up the largest component of the healthcare workforce
- Act as the primary providers of hospital patient care
- Deliver the majority of the nation’s long-term care
Nurses are critical to the success of our healthcare system. However, stresses from care-taking during the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a recent retirement wave of baby boomer nurses, have led to high turnover rates in the nursing workforce, leading to a skills gap in the industry and 62% of American hospitals reporting a nurse vacancy rate higher than 7.5%.
While the health of the nursing industry is reliant on filing these roles — and then some — there is some relief to be had. Digital health technology can make a nurse’s work — at any level of experience — more efficient and effective and enable nurses to work top-of-license.
Exceptional global circumstances and a need for nursing efficiency
In a recent McKinsey survey of hospital leaders, 84% of respondents reported challenges with nursing workforce coverage. The same survey found that rates of nursing turnover and vacancy have increased an average of 4-5 percentage points in the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hospitals have tried to rise to the challenge, increasing wages (31% of respondents) and recruitment efforts (30% of respondents) for the nursing workforce in recent months. But there’s only so much that can be done for a workforce facing burnout, stress, depression, and other conditions.
In addition to increased wages and added hiring, these disparate factors mean that efforts must be made to alleviate the burden on nurses while on the job and to increase the efficiency of their required tasks.
Addressing widening nursing skills gap
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses in the baby boomer generation had begun to retire. An unprecedented influx of new graduate RNs is still unable to make up for those leaving the profession during the pandemic, and taking years of experience and skill with them. Because of this changeover, the profession is experiencing a nationwide nursing skills gap.
While nursing education has well equipped novice nurses to serve the patient population, it’s also true that care complexity is increasing nationwide, both with the COVID-19 pandemic and an aging population that requires more complex care. The Advisory Board has termed this the “experience-complexity gap,” and it’s a challenge that must be addressed in the workforce moving forward.
Relying on digital health technology to increase nursing efficiency
So where do all of these factors leave existing nurses?
While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to high nursing turnover rates and a widening nursing skills gap in the field, there are some ways to mitigate the burdens they are being asked to take on in their roles each day.
- Reducing the need for nurses to spend their time performing logistical tasks, such as meal ordering or light and room management
- Automating routine tasks and documentation for staff
- Preparing patients for successful discharge
- Allowing nurses to practice at the top of their licenses
In addition, many healthcare organizations are encouraging the use of a mobile-first approach that enables patients and their families to start and complete patient education modules on the mobile device of their choosing, allowing for easy access and reduced demands on clinicians and nursing staff.
Higher adoption of this technology accelerates patient self-service and results in fewer calls to nurses, which in turn makes for a more satisfied nursing population with reduced demands on their time. By offloading some of the non-clinical tasks and reducing the responsibility of patient education, digital health technology can enable the nursing workforce to focus on what they do best: providing the best possible care for every patient.
The bottom line
The nursing industry is facing many challenges, from an increase in acute conditions and a rise in more complex cases, a global pandemic, burnout, turnover, and the impending retirement of an entire skilled generation of the workforce.
What can healthcare organizations do to mitigate these stressors? By arming nurses with the best technological tools, hospitals and health systems can enable them to do their best clinical work and get back to the job of putting the patient first.