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How technology can support the well-being of nurses and patients alike

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RFID, AI and clinical mobility solutions are helping return nurses’ time to patient care and reduce stress.

Florence Nightingale was the pioneer of modern nursing and early proponent of evidence-based nursing practices in the 19th century, yet I don’t think she would recognise all the technology in modern hospitals. The world has changed a lot in the last two centuries. However, I believe she would understand the vital importance of data, the pressures on nurses in providing patient care today, and how – together – data and nurses can transform healthcare systems.

She may even question the current state of nursing informatics and areas of investment that are growing increasingly important, something that others in the healthcare community have also done since the start of the pandemic. So, I view International Nurses Day – the day celebrated in Florence Nightingale’s memory – as an opportunity for reflection.

The theme for International Nurses Day 2022 is “Nurses: A Voice to Lead” and serves as a call to action to “invest in nursing and respect rights to secure global health.” Supporting nurses is critical for the health of patients and the well-being of nurses, which is why we must accept that technology is a vital part of today’s healthcare systems and must be better prioritised in terms of investment.

Nurses play valuable roles on every healthcare team and are often the ones delivering front-line patient care in the emergency room or in a patient’s room. The amount of time a nurse spends with a patient and the time it takes a nurse to respond to a patient call button directly affects patient outcomes. Without technology driving the right nurse to the right place to take the right action at the right time, there is a risk of delays or impacted decisions.

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Rikki Jennings, Chief Nursing Informatics Officer at Zebra Technologies

Plus, there’s a growing shortage of nurses, which means patient capacity could decline if healthcare systems aren’t using technology to compensate – to augment the workforce. In 2020, The World Health Organization’s (WHO) first State of the World's Nursing report revealed the global nursing workforce was 27.9 million and estimated a global shortfall of 5.9 million nurses.

If we want to stop the bleed and prevent some of healthcare’s acute issues from becoming chronic, we must give nurses a voice in business decisions. They need the opportunity to influence technology investments. Who better to say which technology tools are effectively augmenting nursing teams and automating workflows than nurses? Only they will be able to confirm which technologies make it easier to give each patient the attention they deserve. 

A new set of priorities

Healthcare has traditionally been focused on controlling costs, providing care for the population, and the ‘consumer’ – meaning patient – experience. Now, healthcare system leaders are looking ahead and focusing on building sustainable operating models with new priorities, including improving the provider-employee experience and increasing health equity by providing care for more people and improving healthcare access. Of course, this must all be supported by technology to be successful.

The pandemic was a major accelerant for technology adoption across acute care environments. In a recent Healthcare Vision Study commissioned by Zebra Technologies, 85 per cent of decision-makers reported that their hospitals sped up their technology projects and continue to increase investments in mobility, locationing and automation solutions. Ninety-five percent (95 per cent) of IT decision-makers expect to increase spending in healthcare IT and clinical mobility by the end of 2022.

More specifically, hospital executives say they will invest heavily in care team communication and patient engagement tools, as well as mobile alerting systems. Near-term deployments will include both radio frequency identification (RFID) and Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) solutions that provide pinpoint location accuracy and expedite asset retrieval.

Nurses rely heavily on medical equipment to deliver patient care, including ventilators, infusion pumps and basic aids such as wheelchairs. Any delay in patient treatment due to troubles locating equipment or other team members for assistance adds to the stress both nurses and patients experience. Yet, one analysis estimates that nurses spend up to 40 hours a month searching for equipment, and 65 per cent of clinicians who participated in the Zebra study currently feel staff spend too much time searching for medical equipment and supplies. Every minute counts in a hospital environment, which is why every investment in track and trace technology counts.

The good news is that any investments made in location solutions have the potential to deliver multiple benefits. RFID and BLE systems can also help healthcare providers improve asset utilization, contact tracing and infection control. 

Healthcare studies also show that technologies like real-time location systems (RTLS) can result in up to a 50 per cent reduction in bed turnover times and as much as a three-hour reduction in patient length of stay. In a 275-bed hospital, cutting just four hours off the average hospital stay is the same as adding 10 new beds.

Taking a data-driven approach to addressing new nursing priorities?

Real-time data is largely viewed as essential to delivering advanced patient care, which is why more hospital decision-makers are planning to invest in locationing technology such as RFID for real-time visibility of equipment, supplies and the specimen chain across healthcare systems. However, healthcare IT teams have to update systems at the hardest time possible. That’s why we must turn to data to help guide technology decisions and understand which solutions are most apt to make the nursing shortage a nonissue.

In other words, we should not just be talking about the lessons learned from the pandemic for the sake of hindsight and “what we should have done better.” That was 2021 thinking. We must now look ahead to the next 12 months and lay the groundwork for the next few years based on what we know we can – and must – do better. Healthcare system leaders are feeling very ‘heads down’ to survive right now and it's time to change that. More than two-thirds (67 per cent) of hospital executives who participated in Zebra’s study don’t feel their organisations are investing enough to maximise staff efficiency and believe more must be done, so let’s do more (together).

Healthcare administrators will need to work quickly with nurses to find and deploy technology tools that facilitate widespread collaboration, improve planning and execution, and balance schedules according to actual – rather than assumed – bandwidth.

They must also spend much of 2022 collectively examining ways to automate workflows, information transfers, and physical hand overs of patients, equipment, rooms, supplies, medicines and more. As RFID technology is increasingly integrated into hospital technology architecture to expedite patient, staff and equipment locationing as well as the overall patient journey, healthcare leaders and IT administrators will need to ensure front-line staff can maximise the data generated by those RFID systems to get through tasks faster. That’s the only way everyone’s days will become easier, and nurses will become more likely to stay in the profession.

A call to action

This International Nurses Day gives us the opportunity to recognise the extraordinary value of our nursing community with tangible action. We must remain committed to empowering healthcare workers by making the equipment that supports their vital work visible, connected and fully optimised. We must follow through on the growing list of priorities so the list of “issues” hindering healthcare shrinks. Florence Nightingale recognised the unique perspective of nurses in improving healthcare and we salute this remarkable vision today by turning to nurses to guide the way forward; they truly know the power and potential of technology.

Rikki Jennings is Chief Nursing Informatics Officer at Zebra Technologies and a Registered Nurse

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