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An affordable, sustainable solution to the inescapable nurse shortage

October 02, 2023
Business Affairs
Monica Weekes
By Monica Weekes and Frances Dare

Two realities face hospital executives that must be addressed in tandem to insure operational and financial viability. First, demand for nurses will exceed capacity for the foreseeable future. Second, unremitting financial pressures are forcing hospitals to reduce the cost of care. Staffing drives most of those costs because healthcare is a labor-intensive industry. The need for more nurses and the demand to cut costs may seem at odds, but there’s a way to address both while maintaining high standards of care. Healthcare systems can reimagine and redesign nursing practice to be more fulfilling, improving recruitment and retention. Simultaneously, these redesigned practices can create larger capacity for high-quality patient care from an institution’s existing workforce, resulting in healthier top and bottom lines.

An unsustainable nurse staffing model
In the past, the physical and emotional demands of hospital nursing have been balanced by the satisfaction nurses experience caring for patients and the sense of community and collaboration found with their nursing colleagues. Nonetheless, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing practice was already becoming more difficult, with hospitalized patients increasingly sicker and more medically complex. With the pandemic, those issues were significantly exacerbated. Nurses became overwhelmed and exhausted, with little time left to support one another. Pandemic-driven burnout led to record-setting numbers of nurse resignations and retirement, exacerbating the decades-long nursing shortage.

Even in better times, nearly one third of new nursing graduates left the profession within the first year. The problem isn’t going away, with one recent analysis showing that younger nurses continue to leave the profession at higher rates than their more experienced counterparts. It continues to impact hospital revenues and margins -- with too few nurses to staff needed beds and high-costs for the temporary staff needed to fill as much of the patient care gap as possible.

The future of nursing is connected and collaborative
How can nursing be reimagined and redesigned? The answer is connected, collaborative nursing. In this model, bedside and offsite nurses (or other team members) share patient care responsibilities with an assist from existing and emerging technologies. Connected collaborative nursing maximizes the time available for hands-on care from bedside nurses by leveraging both off-site team members and intelligent machines to do three things: shift work, share work, and streamline patient care management. On their own, each of these technology-enabled approaches can free up time for hospital nurses. Leveraging all three in concert can act as a force multiplier.

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