It’s been nearly two years since the first cases of COVID-19 found their way to the United States. And, as the country battles a new surge of COVID-19 cases stemming from the Omicron variant, daily hospitalizations from COVID-19 continue to shatter records — something experts say could become a regular occurrence with the much more transmissible variant. And the increase in patients is shining a spotlight on nation-wide staffing shortages.
COVID-19 is driving a constant state of emergency
Earlier this month, five states — Colorado, Oregon, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia — and Washington, D.C., declared public health emergencies or authorized crisis standards of care. This designation allows hospitals and ambulances to restrict or significantly limit treatment when facilities are unable to meet patient demand. In the face of historic staffing, financial, and resource shortages, the American Hospital Association also called for an extension of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Compounding the influx of patients is a severe staffing shortage, made worse by nurses and other hospital staff themselves contracting COVID-19 and being unable to work. This increases nurse-to-patient ratios and only adds pressure and stress to front-line workers who have been working in nearly impossible conditions since March 2020.
Staffing shortages that were bad a year ago are only getting worse. Nearly 85% of CNOs report challenges with nursing workforce coverage, with 55% of nurses reporting that they feel burned out and another 22 to 30% indicating they may leave their position providing direct patient care in the next year.
According to Department of Health and Human Services data, 18 states are facing severe shortages of doctors, nurses, and other medical workers, with more than 25% of hospitals in those states reporting significant shortages. To meet demand, some hospitals are relying on traveling nurses — something that costs facilities millions.
Digital health technology, like GetWell Loop and GetWell Inpatient, can go a long way toward helping with staffing needs during difficult times. While perhaps not a completely comprehensive answer — there are many aspects to staffing shortages during times of crisis — such technology is a step in the right direction to address these concerns.
Digital health technology can help reduce staff overwhelm
As the number of patients being treated for COVID-19 rises, the demands on staff increase. Ordinary tasks and decisions — like understanding which patients need outreach and which incoming phone calls should be addressed first — can rapidly become overwhelming when staff members are faced with a growing number of hospitalizations.
But technologies like GetWell Loop’s COVID-19 digital care plans or GetWell Inpatient’s COVID-19 promotional space serve a number of purposes to help decrease the burden on staff during this difficult time. With these solutions, organizations can:
- Direct patients to trusted and reliable public health information and guidelines and provide information for commonly asked questions
- Digitally triage and escalate patient needs through real-time alerting
- Receive real-time alerts about escalating symptoms
- Broadcast system-wide messages or individual content directly into patient rooms at the point of care
- Reduce unnecessary use of valuable resources such as PPE
Developing processes and implementing notification systems help to prioritize patients for staff, ultimately lowering the amount of necessary phone calls and hospital visits, helping to prevent burnout and reducing — or at least leveling — the workload for front-line workers.
Digital health technology supports continued COVID-19 vaccine compliance
Technology will never replace the crucial front-line staff providing vaccines and ensuring that patients are comforted and at ease. However, digital health technology has a role to play before and after vaccine appointments by:
- Informing and educating people
- Influencing attitudes
- Addressing fears and safety concerns
- Helping improve appointment compliance
- Tracking expected side effects of the vaccine
By lifting the burden of education and monitoring of vaccine compliance off of nurses and providers, digital health technology enables them to better focus on providing direct patient care.
Digital health technology can help address staffing shortages
With so many patients in need, one of the most pressing concerns for healthcare organizations today is addressing staff shortages. This is where scalable technologies like GetWell Loop come in, since the right remote patient monitoring tools enable triage of patients and remote monitoring, reducing overwhelm on the healthcare system.
In addition, digital health technologies that integrate with EMRs are invaluable since they reduce additional workload on staff, allowing patient care to scale without requiring staff training or logins for new systems outside of their current workflows.
Digital health technology can improve patient access
Another reliable way of mitigating staff shortages is to put patient reliance on technology itself, rather than requiring and relying on the intervention of staff at all times, augmenting human interactions and protecting nursing hours and allowing top-of-license work. Providing patients with multiple ways to access educational or therapeutic offerings — offered via in-room television or on their own devices — removes the burden from staff to be constantly at the beck and call of patients and empowers patients to seek the information they need, when they need it.
With more than 85% of U.S. adults owning a smartphone, Americans have acclimated to mobile technology and have come to expect the same convenience in other parts of their life, including healthcare. Mobile offerings allow patients to consume information and care on their own terms. And, by embracing a mobile-inclusive strategy, healthcare staff are freed up to focus on those most in need. In an era with widespread patient needs, every extra helping hand can make a difference.
The bottom line
Reducing overwhelm, addressing staff shortages, and focusing on a mobile-inclusive strategy are all crucial ways that digital health technology can aid in the global fight against COVID-19 and other public health emergencies.
By working together to alleviate the burden on the health system, healthcare organizations and digital health technology providers can offer nursing staff and other front-line workers a much-needed reprieve.