The nursing-physician dynamic: A missing link in the burnout epidemic?

Rachel, a first-year resident physician in internal medicine, receives a code blue page. As she rushes to the bedside, she finds herself in one of the most daunting situations in healthcare.

She isn't alone though; by her side is a senior resident physician and an expert team of nurses. Kim, a senior nurse in the unit, notices the fearfulness in Rachel’s eyes.

Kim approaches Rachel and says, “you’ve got this.” The highly trained code blue team further supports Rachel by following her instructions, which results in saving the patient’s life. Kim, who has worked as a critical care nurse for 20 years, has helped to train hundreds of doctors—including Rachel’s attending physician. Rachel will later become a critical care doctor after completing six years of training, and she will always remember Kim’s reassuring words. 

Every year, resident physicians initiate their journey in specialty training. Nurses, the backbone of clinical care in the hospital setting, are integral to training future practicing physicians. As residents progress in their training, they build long-lasting relationships with nurses along the way. These crucial connections ultimately foster better patient care.

Repairing a broken dynamic

The nurse-physician dynamic plays an important role in how physicians and nurses remain engaged in-patient care, and it contributes greatly to work satisfaction for both professionals. But with increasing rates of attrition at all levels of nursing, the dynamic is broken, adding another layer to the burnout, fatigue, and frustration our clinical experts are feeling. 

The recently released symplr Compass Survey Report, which gathered data from 132 top U.S. health systems about technology use, shows that hospitals appear eager to enlist the aid of integrated software solutions to predict, connect, complement, and streamline human tasks—especially if the tools relieve unnecessary administrative burdens on clinicians and staff.

On another front, some health systems and medical schools are launching groundbreaking programs to repair the broken nurse-physician dynamic. For example, Harvard Medical School sponsors a course co-taught by a nurse and a physician, aimed at nurses and physicians who wish to learn how to use the knowledge and skills of both disciplines to collaboratively teach. 

Collaboration creates opportunities

Improvements to patient care require exceptional clinical collaboration and communication. Role-based collaboration—not just between physicians and nurses, but also among healthcare professionals who represent different disciplines and offer differing points of view—results in care plans that best address patients' needs.

From the clinician's perspective, there's something truly empowering about working closely with other practitioners to provide a comprehensive path to improved health. Doctors and nurses learn from one another and thus are able to provide even higher levels of care.

In addition, collaborative clinical teams follow the patient throughout their healthcare journey, providing a sense of continuity. Providers become familiar not only with the patient's case, but with each other. Using the right tools, they can more easily communicate and collaborate. Such multifunctional teamwork and technology frequently produce better outcomes and can reduce inefficiencies. But while 84% of health system CIOs say having a streamlined IT infrastructure is important in their ability to retain clinicians, 60% report using 50+ software solutions for healthcare operations alone.

Communication and education are key 

Healthcare operations software is already being used to support clinical collaboration and communication by, for example, preventing unnecessary staff overtime, enabling clinicians to self-schedule, give physicians and nurses a single communications channel, and reduce interruptions and fatigue. Adoption of a clinician-centric approach to technology is gaining traction in healthcare, but there is abundant opportunity to create more efficient technology ecosystems within healthcare organizations that support the nurse-physician dynamic.

Healthcare as a whole must implement interventions that will facilitate collaboration while educating each discipline on patient care challenges and opportunities for improvement. We need to explore and develop technologies that will improve clinical communication and collaboration but will not add to the burnout of alert fatigue.

The time is now, and the stakes could not be higher in terms of patient care and nurses' and physicians' well-being.

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