The healthcare industry’s in a crisis and like usual, nurses are on the front lines. The numbers speak for themselves: 1 in 5 healthcare workers reportedly quit during the COVID-19 pandemic. And a survey from November 2021 suggests nearly a third of registered nurses (RNs) — an increase of 10% over 10 months — were considering leaving their current patient care role. Indeed, hospital CEOs’ top concern last year was staffing shortages, with 94% specifically citing a lack of RNs as their greatest concern.
This has a profound impact on patients. In fact, nearly 80% of healthcare workers said in a 2021 poll that staff shortages have affected their ability to deliver patient care.
It's no secret nurses are some of the most important people in our healthcare systems. They're the ones on the front lines, providing care to patients day in and day out. Even feeling like the job is more of a calling isn’t enough to stop some from exiting the profession.
Nurses report they're tired, underpaid and don’t feel appreciated by their organization. This is especially true in recent years, as the healthcare system has become increasingly complex. They’re also caring for sicker patients, many of whom are part of the pandemic’s “diagnosis explosion,” where conditions worsened or went undiagnosed due to distancing guidelines. The result is that nurses are often working long hours, with little time for breaks or personal time.
Here we explore why nurses are leaving healthcare, and how healthcare technology can support care teams with what they need, when they need it.
Average bedside RN turnover in 2020 rose to an all-time high of 18.6% — a 2% increase from 2019 and the largest annual increase in seven years."Why so many nurses are quitting (and what to do about it)," Advisory Board, Oct. 6, 2021
Why are so many nurses joining the Great Resignation?
Several issues contributing to nurse burnout began years before the COVID-19 pandemic, but they worsened during it. One survey of more than 200 health systems found that “average bedside RN turnover in 2020 rose to an all-time high of 18.6%.” This 2% increase from 2019 also marked the largest annual increase in seven years, the survey reported.
Some nurses left due to an increase in demand for travel nurses, others retired early. Some sought high sign-on bonuses and others cited bedside RN burnout. One Ohio-based nurse who recently resigned echoed what others are saying across the country: “Work-life balance was zero.”
Exhausting shifts with no time to recharge took its toll. “There were many days when I didn’t eat during a 12-hour shift,” the nurse said. “Self-care goes out the window. These conditions were there before the pandemic, but it’s worse now.”
Direct, personalized patient care is what nurses consider one of the most valued aspects of their profession. But increasing patient-to-nurse ratios limits the time they can spend with each patient. In one contrasting survey result, nurses reported lower satisfaction for administrative responsibilities when it resulted in less skill or knowledge-based patient care.
For many nurses, these limits can be heartbreaking.
“I would leave in tears because I wasn’t able to give the care I wanted,” the Ohio nurse said.
Widespread burnout in healthcare is affecting the quality of patient care
It’s not just nurses who are suffering due to understaffing and a high emotional burden.
Pharmacists are also experiencing record levels of burnout and leaving their profession due to many of the same reasons.
Like nurses, pharmacists have said they can’t provide the level of care they want to deliver for their patients. Our 2021 survey showed that more than half said they don’t have enough time to complete their jobs adequately. One of the main reasons they feel this way is that, like nurses, they're bogged down with administrative tasks.
Technology can’t directly solve for staffing shortfalls. But solutions that simplify and accelerate these administrative tasks may help reduce burnout and free nurses, pharmacists and providers to focus more time on patient care. For instance, solutions that surface the right information at the right time could help take four hours of information searching out of a 12-hour shift. This would allow more time per person to be spent on productive clinical work with patients.
How can technology help improve working conditions for nurses?
While technology can’t solve all the problems contributing to burnout, it can help lighten the administrative burdens many nurses cite as barriers to delivering hands-on patient care.
For instance, 92% of nurses surveyed said they provide information to the prescriber that influences the medication decision and 59% are doing so at least several times per week. Most are often consulting multiple sources to find this information outside their regular workflow.
Why? Most of the information they need isn’t located in one reliable source. Integrating medication reference solutions that include common side effects and drug interactions can help save time and allow them to focus on the next task.
Solutions in workflow that surface the right information at the right time — such as patient drug allergies, medication history and real-time prescription benefit information — can simplify the process, saving both the nurse and patient time.
The same technology can also enhance communication among all members of the care team, which, in addition to nurses, often involves multiple providers and pharmacists. Providing instant access to critical patient information, whether it’s a change in a patient’s condition, health benefits or something else, means they don’t have to waste time tracking it down.
Role-specific solutions can also pare down the amount of data surfaced to reduce alert fatigue and information overload, which many nurses say contributes to burnout. And, as the 2022 Medication Access Report shows, technology that includes asynchronous, digital channels of communication with patients, are preferred by care teams experiencing staffing shortages and a strained healthcare system.
Overall, expanding the tech infrastructure in health systems to support collaboration and share critical patient information at the right time could help reduce burnout and allow nurses to provide the level of patient care that drew them into the profession in the first place.
For more information about innovative solutions that benefit both patients and health professionals, download our Medication Access Report: Technology Edition.