In May of 2013, the hospital sector lost 9,000 jobs, and just two months later, in July, it lost another 4,400, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While some argue Obamacare is to blame for hospital staff reductions, there are a variety of reasons hospitals have to rely on fewer employees to get the job done.
Hospitals state the new health laws, lack of Medicaid expansion, an aging population, lower reimbursements rates, budget cuts and a reduction in National Institutes of Health grant funding or other funding as contributing factors.
Many of these issues have impacted already thin operating margins at many healthcare systems.
Whatever the reasons, it’s no secret many hospitals are striving for solutions that will allow them to increase staff efficiencies, and to make up for the reduction in staff.
In many situations, implementing new processes and technologies can reduce the toll a shortened staff can take on the already-burdened nurses and doctors.
As 2014 unfolds, I believe there are four technologies nurses and caregivers can integrate as a part of their patient care strategy to cope with staff reduction:
- continuous monitoring;
- clinical dashboards;
- centralized IT systems; and
- technology designed to prevent or reduce hospital readmissions.
Continuous Monitoring Systems
Already in 2013, continuous monitoring systems played an instrumental role in freeing up ICU beds, and providing valuable patient data automatically, thus predicting future potentially adverse events.
In the hospital setting, general care units with continuous monitoring systems can take in patients whose vital signs need to be closely monitored, but don’t necessarily need to be admitted to the care areas which require ICU-level nurses and care.
In 2014, we are seeing continuous monitoring technology play a more vital role as more and more hospitals turn to this technology as one solution for increasing caregiver efficiency.
With automatic reads of vital signs and trend indicators built into the system, nurses can attend to the most problematic individuals first and ensure no patient with an urgent or potentially concerning situation goes unattended.
These tools are becoming so automated and rapid in there communication that they will become crucial as nurse-patient ratios continues to be challenged.
Without clinical dashboards, patient data quickly becomes irrelevant.
If there is no way to read or dissect data coming in from spot-checks or monitoring devices, or even devices such as ventilators and infusion pumps the data is difficult to pull together and interpret for nurses and may waste valuable time with a staff which have fewer members.
Clinical dashboards provide a centralized location where nurses can utilize important patient data to both detect problems before they occur and find out pertinent information about each patient.
Clinical dashboards enable nurses to detect problems in real-time so they can be taken care of before it’s too late.
Down the road, as clinical dashboard technologies improves, I believe it will become more interactive and predictive and possibly move to mobile devices and be integrated into EMR’s providing clinicians with on-the-go and remote accessibility.
Centralized IT Systems
In the same way a clinical dashboard is required to interpret patient data, centralized IT systems will become required for nurses to access patient history and data from past hospital visits and from other care areas across the continuum of care.
Centralized IT systems make it possible to keep data safe and secure, as no redundancy is allowed, meaning that each person has one record within the database. This makes access to patient information much more efficient for nurses.
The adoption of centralized IT systems makes training easier for nurses and staff members, because all processes are in the same database and only one system needs to be learned and adopted.
Instead of nurses spending their time training on how to use new technology, staff can spend their time taking care of and focusing on patients.
Readmission Prevention Technology
Data may hold the key to predicting and preventing those at high risk of readmission from returning to the hospital. In the past, in some cases, it’s been difficult to link past hospital admissions with future admissions, or to predict if a readmission is likely to happen.
With uninterrupted data obtained from continuous monitoring technologies or properly recorded spot-checks, nurses can be trained to spot trends in vital signs and other patient parameters that may show warning signs of future problems.
Hospitals are open to being penalized for readmissions, so hospitals with reduced staff must rely heavily on prevention technology and data points that predict what could go wrong in the future and head off potentially adverse events prior to them occurring.
Even with reduced staff, hospitals are required to provide the best care possible.
Technology can serve as a valuable tool in an environment of reduced staff, as it helps current staff members to do his or her job more efficiently.
The use of data in hospitals is not new, but I believe we will be given ever greater accessibility to it, both on the hospital and personal levels.
Technology has the power to reduce readmissions, offer the best quality care possible to patients and ultimately aid hospital staff in significant way in an effort save lives.
Tim O’Malley is President of EarlySense.