7 ways to immediately reduce nurse strain

Hospitals and health systems are increasingly partnering with nursing schools or offering academic financial assistance to bolster the nursing pipeline. While an influx of nursing students will eventually help address workforce issues, there will be at least a two-year lag before these investments pay off, and with a growing nursing shortage, hospitals can't afford to wait.

A more immediate solution to reducing nurse strain is to perform an "audit" of nurses' jobs to assess which duties could be shifted to other staffers or done virtually.  

Becker's asked four chief nursing officers what immediate strategies come to mind if they were to do such an audit to optimize nurses' workflow. 

The following leaders weighed in:

  • Denise Mihal, BSN, RN, executive vice president and chief nursing and clinical operations officer at Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health

  • Kathleen Sanford, BSN, RN, executive vice president and CNO of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health

  • Annette Sy, DNP, RN, CNO of Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital, both in Los Angeles

  • Janet Tomcavage, MSN, RN, executive vice president and chief nurse executive at Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger

Here's what they shared: 

1. Consider how other employees in the organization can support nurses to ensure they're practicing at the top of their license. For example, pharmacy technicians could be tapped to pull medications, cutting the time nurses spend hunting and gathering necessary drugs. This could also include leveraging non-licensed employees to reduce some of the side work nurses typically do, such as stocking supplies. Another example is tapping admission-discharge-transfer nurses to assist primary nurses with necessary tasks.

2. Don't forget about nurse managers and nurse leaders when looking at ways to reduce strain. The responsibilities of nurse managers have grown over time, and it's worth considering what sorts of tasks another team member may be able to do so leaders can spend more time with their front-line staff to directly manage and support them. 

3. Tap technology for patient monitoring. Hospitals can adopt a tele-intensive care unit program with video monitoring capabilities for patients who need closer observation. Another option is to use remote patient care monitoring for high-risk fall patients, so that one staff member can watch numerous patients at once to reduce falls and consolidate nurses' workloads. 

4. Replace call centers with smartphones to create a more flexible approach that enables nurses to answer calls from anywhere, instead of tying them to the nursing desk. 

5. Address alarm fatigue. By implementing an integrated alarm management solution, hospitals can improve clinical processes and efficiency alongside patient experience. 

6. Streamline documentation for nurses. Hospitals should assess how much time nurses are spending on charting and reporting information about their patients. Eliminating unnecessary documentation and improving existing processes is another way to protect nurses' time and reduce strain. Smartphones can also be used as one-stop, universally used electronic hubs to house patient vitals, health records and internal communications

7. Offer options to near-retirement or other experienced nurses who may be considering leaving the field. For example, hospitals can offer nurses the opportunity to be more involved in virtual care services.  

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