How nurse leaders can battle clinician burnout with communication technology

As nurse leaders strive to improve patient outcomes, communication technology can boost care quality and help nurses stay connected to the bedside. However, as nurses continually rearrange their priorities according to changing patient conditions, leaders must ensure these frontline providers aren't overburdened by numerous alerts and patient documentation tasks. To mitigate cognitive burden, hospitals can adopt communication tools that make workflows more streamlined.

At Texas Health Resources, a 28-hospital system based in Arlington, leaders are challenged to ensure roughly 7,500 nurses and more than 6,200 physicians maintain an efficient workflow. However, clinicians are often overloaded with alerts or are interrupted by other staff members when trying to complete tasks, prompting health-system leaders to take a closer look at workflows.

In an Oct. 23 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Rhonda Collins, DNP, RN, chief nursing officer at Vocera, was joined by Mary Beth Mitchell, MSN, RN, chief nursing informatics officer of Texas Health Resources, and Joni Padden, DNP, nursing informatics specialist at Texas Health Resources, to discuss ways hospitals can overcome the cognitive burden associated with managing multiple clinical systems and how to use the right technology to improve workflow efficiencies and the well-being of clinicians.

Overcoming cognitive burdens in clinician workflows

When clinicians stop adhering to different tasks in their workflow, particularly when completing patient documentation duties, it suggests a need for leaders to adjust workflow practices.

"We all thought technology would save us from everything bad that could happen in our hospitals, but we regularly see clinicians ignoring alerts or making calls incorrectly during their workflow," Ms. Mitchell said.   

To address workflow issues, Texas Health examined successful practices nurses use during care and applied them to documentation practices. For example, when preparing and administering medications, nurses wear a vest with a color that signifies they are preparing medications so other staff members know not to interrupt or distract them, Dr. Padden said.

"We tried to take the focused medication administration example and apply it to when clinicians are documenting patient information, so we have a setting that when a clinician is in the patient's record, we're not interrupting their workflow," Dr. Padden said. "If the information clinicians need is all on one screen and they can get through the task without being interrupted, we can reduce the cognitive burden of that task."

Additionally, to help streamline physician workflow, the health system uses a single communication platform that enables secure text messaging and hands-free communication.

Ms. Mitchell and her colleagues evaluated how clinicians felt about the communication technology at one of the system's hospitals that uses the secure messaging solution. At the hospital, staff used tablets to send questions between clinicians. "We talked to physicians about how they liked the communication solution and their biggest complaint was that nurses were sending too many follow-up messages that were smiley faces or 'thanks' in reply," Ms. Mitchell said. "It showed us they really are adopting these communication tools into their workflow, and we've been getting positive feedback."

How technology and supportive tools can enhance workflow efficiency

Hospitals should move toward more predictive and prescriptive analytic supportive tools when looking for technology to reduce cognitive burden in clinician workflows, Ms. Mitchell said.

"For example, predictive and prescriptive tools present clinicians with information about a patient's clinical status without the clinicians having to look for it and text out that patient's name and information," Ms. Mitchell said. "If I'm in a patient's record and need to notify a physician, the tool should know I'm on that patient's record and let the physician know I'm asking about this patient to avoid having to take that extra step."

Dr. Padden discussed how predictive and prescriptive analytic tools can also improve workflow efficiency by giving clinicians the top five actions they can take when providing care and reminding them of the easiest path to complete these actions, such as ensuring a patient's medication is administered and recorded.

"Anytime clinicians get an alert, it should be actionable, so they can do what they need to do and go seamlessly from one task to the next," Dr. Padden said. “It is just as important to consider what information you filter out as what information you let through to clinicians,” she added.

Reducing cognitive load through communication tools that enhance workflows

As hospital leaders look to foster efficient workflows across departments, tools that allow clinicians to communicate easily and interact with patient information uninterrupted can prevent them from being fatigued by lengthy patient documentation tasks and numerous alerts.

"I look at everything I'm involved with through the lens of reducing cognitive burden with the clinicians I work with," Dr. Padden said. "If we can use tools that present information to them in the easiest and most intuitive way, they will come to work more refreshed."

Technology used to make hospital care more efficient should fit into the context of different clinicians' workflows and enable them to practice within the scope of their care to the highest level possible, Dr. Collins concluded.

"A heavy cognitive load means more burnout and stress for clinicians," she said. "If we can reduce the alerts and information clinicians are getting throughout the work day, our providers can do a better job."

To listen to the full webinar recording, click here.

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