Since 2012, the U.S. has suffered a nursing shortage that has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the American Nurses Association sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services asking that the nursing shortage be declared a national nurse staffing crisis.

Recently, the pronounced nurse shortage at Ochsner Health in Louisiana led hospital administers to ask their neurology team to help pitch in, including the chair of neurosurgery. The physicians removed their white coats and gave bed baths, pulled catheters, turned patients, wheeled them to imaging and readied patients’ medications.

Finding volunteers from other departments may be one solution, but is not sustainable in the long run. Here are some ways hospitals are employing technology to help alleviate the current nurse staffing crisis:

Artificial Intelligence in Nursing

Sufficient nurse staffing contributes to improved patient outcomes and greater satisfaction for both patients and staff. With the goal of improved patient to nurse ratios, some facilities are exploring whether certain tasks can be automated or solved via artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

For instance, artificial intelligence in nursing could help minimize nurses’ workload by assisting with patient triage. By asking a series of questions that are assessed against an algorithm, they can decide the best solution for patients: either receiving a diagnosis from a physician or having a remote, telehealth visit.

Additionally, AI in nursing can help augment some of nurses’ most physical and repetitive tasks. As the “silver tsunami” creates a nurse shortage in nursing homes, “carebots” are starting to be used to assist patients with ambulation, moving in and out of bed, and alerting staff to any emergencies. When AI is used at the bedside, nurses are able to focus less on tasks such as reading through past patient encounters and multiple charts and focus more on patient care.

In another example of artificial intelligence in nursing, at New York-Presbyterian’s Clinical Operations Center, registered nurses monitor smart-bed technology to remotely track movement, weight and vitals.

“We have successfully been able to lean on highly complex automated systems that greatly decreased redundancy in tasks performed by registered nurses, doctors and other staff, reduced the number of team members physically required to monitor patients, and sizably cut down the amount of time staff spend inputting patient data,” the hospital’s chief technology officer, Leo Bodden, told Healthcare IT News.

Mobile Staffing Solutions

As the nurse staffing crisis puts a strain on the limited nurses available to work, a better way to manage schedules and swap shifts is needed. Mobile staffing solutions such as apps can use data-learning technology to recognize a nurse’s preferred shifts and notify them when these shift times are available, according to a 2020 Forbes article.

Augmented scheduling technology also allows nurses to choose their preferred schedule based on their personal needs while comparing them to other nurses’ availabilities in a more streamlined process. This will allow nurses to switch shifts with each other easily as needed. A more optimized schedule through mobile staffing solutions could reduce call-offs as well make schedules more predictable, contributing towards a better work/life balance.

Benefits of Telehealth Nursing

Hospitals are exploring the benefits of telehealth nursing, allowing nurses to perform a variety of tasks virtually such as monitoring a patient’s oxygen levels, heart rate and blood pressure to showing a patient how to treat a burn or dress a wound.

A 2020 report published in the Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing noted that one of the benefits of telehealth nursing could be preadmission testing (PAT) prior to surgery. While components of PAT such as direct airway evaluation or lab studies cannot be conducted virtually, performing PAT over a telehealth system reduced the risk of presurgical exposure to COVID-19 and helped staff to safely return to normal surgical case volumes, according to the report authors.

Telehealth has also been found to be beneficial for staff members within the Neuro ICU. In 2017, Cleveland Clinic decided to implement a telemedicine system within their Neuro ICU on their main campus to help neurointensivists monitor patients at night. Under this new system, when an “acute event” occurred at night, a Neuro ICU nurse would call an on-site advanced practice provider while another nurse would use a videoconferencing cart to connect with the on-call neurointensivist.

The Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute has also worked to extend their neurological services to other hospitals by using telehealth, which will allow them to help hospitals with “unmet patient needs” get the specialized care they need without having to transfer their patients.

Tech Can’t Replace Nurses

While 90% of hospitals have some kind of artificial intelligence strategy in development, only 25% are in the early stages of implementing them. When it comes to the nursing staffing crisis, these technology solutions may be able to improve the day-to-day workplace experience of nurses by eliminating inefficiencies and contributing to better work-life balance.

What tech can’t do, experts warn, is replace a bedside nurse, who’s role requires a high level of empathy and emotional intelligence that is rooted in a person-to-person interaction.

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