Today's nurses are at the center of care delivery. But nurses on average spend only about 31 percent of their time on direct patient care. The rest? Paperwork. Resource allocation. Information management. Workflow and communications issues. All the necessary work that can and must be done, but which puts extraordinary pressure on a nurse's capabilities and time.
But the use of proven technology solutions can have a major impact on individual satisfaction, hospital operations and patient care. A new report for the California HealthCare Foundation, Equipped for Efficiency: Improving Nursing Care Through Technology, says emerging technologies like wireless communications, real-time location systems and even delivery robots can dramatically increase a nurse's time with patients.
When nurses and their facilities take on their everyday challenges, and apply powerful tools to tackle them, a better work environment and better healthcare result, say the report authors.
The nurses consulted for the report mentioned numerous projects completed with the help of technology, said Fran Turisco, MBA, research principal at CSC, a consulting and systems integration company, and co-author of the report with Jared Rhoads, MS, senior research analyst at CSC.
"Nurses are asking, 'Here's a problem, now how can we use technology to redesign the care process and help us everyday?'" Turisco said. "These technologies are working in real hospitals and for real nurses, people who rolled up their sleeves, dug into a problem and put technology to use to make a big difference."
The report details how hospitals across the country are using technology for practical solutions to persistent problems. This perspective is spreading to nurse administrators and nurses on the unit floor, as they are faced with shortages and increased patient demands.
"Nurses are constantly multitasking at the highest level," said Linda Talley, RN, director of nursing systems at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Talley and her team used a patient monitor alarm system to enhance communications.
"We need to continue to push toward finding smart solutions that bring decision support to what we have. It's tremendously challenging to triage and prioritize all the multiple tasks nurses are confronted with every day. Why not use the tools at hand to make nursing work more efficient, intuitive and user-friendly?"
Nurses & Technology
Eight technologies being adopted by nurses and hospitals throughout the country have been particularly helpful in improving efficiency, productivity, workflow and, overall, patient care.
Some of the technologies are leading-edge (delivery robots), some are relatively simple and intuitive (electronic medication administration with bar coding), but all are taking aim at universal problems and creating big benefits for the nursing environment.
Take communications. The seemingly simple idea of communicating with other nurses and departments can become very complicated very quickly. It usually involves numerous pieces like a unit desk phone, pager and overhead pager, all of which are in fixed locations. Since nurses are mobile, it can take 58 minutes of each day's shift for nurses to walk to a nurse's station to answer the phone.
But with voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technologies, nurses can tap into the hospital's wireless local area network and reduce time spent walking. Hospitals are using phone headsets or wearable, lightweight badges to bring communications to nurses, independent of location.
At Children's National Medical Center, such wireless communication solution seemed an ideal fix for a newly expanded patient facility with four times as much space for nurses to cover.
Nurses from many departments helped design the wireless communication solution, examine different technologies, talk to vendors and determine needs. As a result, the mean response time for patient monitor alarms dropped from 3 minutes and 10 seconds to 34 seconds. Overall, nurses reported fewer interruptions, better continuity of care and improved workflow.
"The nurses really appreciate how this technology has brought efficiency to their work," Talley said. "They were involved every step of the way in planning and testing, and are very enthusiastic about the tool. It's helpful in the most extreme situations of adverse event, but also for proactive care."