Why UCHealth's new tech-centered role attracts former Best Buy employees

A new role at Aurora, Colo.-based UCHealth designed to allow registered nurses to work at the top of their scope of practice has attracted applicants from an unusual source — Best Buy.

The health system is expanding pilots of new roles including patient technology technicians, virtual sitters, wound care technicians and others. One of the new positions, the patient technology technician, allows registered nurses to focus more on patient care instead of managing technology.

Elizabeth Concordia, president and CEO of UCHealth, and Kathy Howell, BSN, RN, chief nursing executive for UCHealth, recently spoke with Becker's about the new role.

Discussions about the new role stemmed from realizations related to the future nursing workforce, according to Ms. Concordia. Specifically, the realization that the U.S. faces a deficit of 450,000 nurses by 2025. 

"When you're looking at a major nursing shortage, I think the natural response is for me to talk to Kathy and say, 'As an organization, how do we work to retain the nurses that we have? How do we work to be the employer of choice to recruit the nurses that we have that are out there? And more importantly, what new models can we put in place?'" said Ms. Concordia. "Because we know there aren't actually going to be enough nurses to fill these roles that will allow the nurses to work at the top of their scope [of practice]."

Health system leaders spent time listening to nurses and the needs they wanted to address. Ms. Howell said one of the areas that came up clearly through all of the listening sessions is reducing burdens related to technology. The feedback was that nurses were spending most of their shift managing technology concerns rather than at the bedside.

"That started us down this path of designing a whole new role. And that was called a patient technology technician. … We were able to attract a whole new cohort of employees that were interested in healthcare, but not in the traditional ways like being a nurse, a physician, a social worker," Ms. Howell said.

The patient technology technicians have responsibilities focused around inventory and equipment, as well as the technology that monitors patients. For instance, they may help troubleshoot any issue with lead wires that are attached from the patient to a battery pack transmitting impulses to an IV monitor. Ms. Concordia said this brings efficiency because the patient technology technicians can refresh the lead wires and address those issues faster or more efficiently than the nurse because they're doing it many times each day.

To begin with, UCHealth piloted the role at 72 beds at its academic medical center, and then it piloted at one of its smaller community hospitals. Ms. Howell said nurses were asked pre-pilot about their level of satisfaction with managing technology on a day-to-day basis. Only 14% said that they were satisfied, and that rose to 96% post-pilot.

"They were satisfied and actually said, 'Don't ever take this away,'" Ms. Howell said. "So we scaled this across our entire system." 

The health system currently has approximately 115 patient technology technicians across about 123 departments, and they work 24/7. 

"Whether it's 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., it doesn't matter the date, you have support from this role," Ms. Howell said. "And so it's an example of bringing in a role that really is better and more skilled at it than any of our front-line teams and allowing our nurses then to really put their plans of care together and really practice top of scope."

Ms. Howell said the role has attracted a whole new group of potential employees, including young individuals who worked at Best Buy and love technology. She said the role has also attracted students and individuals from diverse backgrounds who may have previously felt intimidated about coming to work at UCHealth, an organization with more than 30,000 employees and a large, integrated network of hospitals, clinics and practices. The health system also has a program to financially support workers with their career progression within the organization, called Ascend.

"Kathy really partnered with our CIO on this and the path that these PTTs can go is they can go the clinical route, [and] we pay for them to get their various certifications and promise them jobs," Ms. Concordia added. "The other route is if they decide they like the technology, they can go and advance through that structure and can eventually become Epic trained to do all sorts of other functions within it."

Overall, with the patient technology technician role, as well as with roles like virtual sitters, wound care technicians and others, UCHealth plans to continue these efforts to allow nurses more time at the bedside.

"I think virtual nursing when you look at it is kind of the newest shiniest object nationally [at health systems], and everybody's starting to innovate around it," said Ms. Howell. "But you really have got to hit some sweet spots and then don't take too much away from the bedside nurse to where they're not satisfied. It's really listening to that team and saying, 'What do you want us to take off your list so that you can provide the care you want to provide.'"


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