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Tech could save 20% of nurses time

Tech initiatives could free up 20% of nurses' time, but is this enough to help hospitals address nursing burnout?
By admin
Aug 18, 2023, 11:44 AM

It’s not possible to add hours to the day, as the old saying goes, but it’s possible to use that time better. A recent McKinsey analysis suggested hospitals could free up as much as 30% of nurses’ time by redesigning how care is delivered and how technology supports that process. 

The consultancy polled 240 nurses on the work they did during a typical 12-hour shift, as compared to the work they’d ideally do. Nurses said they’d prefer to spend more time caring for patients, teaching other nurses, and receiving professional development; they wanted to spend less time charting, searching for people or things, and doing work that could be delegated to support staff. 

Delegation to technicians or nursing assistants could free up as much as 10% of a nursing shift, particularly for tasks such as medication administration, drawing labs, and helping patients use the bathroom.  

The bigger gain could come from technology enablement, freeing up 20% nurses’ time on 12-hour shift – or nearly two and a half hours. These gains could augment the following tasks: 

  • Documentation (35% of tech enablement time savings) of progress notes, vital signs, educational resources, and patient assessments. 
  • Hunting and gathering (15%) for equipment, information, medication, or staff. 
  • Medication administration (14%) and verification, which also includes waiting for medication to be delivered from the pharmacy. 
  • Nursing handoff (11%) to provide updates on patients’ status amid shift changes. 
  • Interdisciplinary communication (9%) with consulting physicians, pharmacists, technicians, and so on. 
  • Patient turning (8%) or repositioning to improve blood circulation and avoid bedsores.  
  • Delivering food and water (7%) in response to patient call buttons. 

In the short term, these changes are unlikely to alleviate healthcare’s critical staffing shortages, McKinsey warned. There are two reasons for this line of thought. One is that hospitals are likely to reallocate the saved time to existing staff to let them spend more time on their desired tasks. This is a wise decision, as reducing interruptions, increasing engagement, and providing more training are key steps in supporting nurses amid rising burnout and decreasing job satisfaction.  

The second reason is that certain aspects of tech enablement can be expensive, whether it’s robots delivering meals, ambient intelligence systems that passively monitor patients and document encounters, or virtual nursing programs. Luckily, there’s an interim step: Evaluate existing systems (or those about to be implemented) to ensure they aren’t the source of redundancies, delays, or frustrations. 

In the long run, the reallocation of existing nurses’ time and responsibilities, coupled with the ability to spend more on acquiring and retaining new talent, could contribute to closing the workforce gap by up to 300,000 nurses, McKinsey estimated.  

This could go a long way – but it may not solve the problem completely. McKinsey previously predicted the industry would face a shortage of up to 450,000 nurses by 2025 due to retirements, resignations, and an increase in the number of nurses working in non-clinical roles. Meanwhile, research from the Journal of Nursing Regulation estimates as many as 610,000 nurses may leave the profession by 2027, due largely to stress, fatigue, and burnout.  

Brian Eastwood is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience covering healthcare IT and healthcare delivery. He also writes about enterprise IT, consumer technology, and corporate leadership.

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