Posted in Perspective

Digital tools can reduce nurse "toil" while improving morale

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
Digital tools can reduce nurse "toil" while improving morale

Few nurses entered the healthcare field to experience the pleasure of filling out patient documentation forms on a computer. Yet this type of mundane task is a growing part of a modern nurse’s job.

Along with incident response, locating colleagues and equipment, coordinating housekeeping, and reconciling medications, administrative and documentation chores can take nurses’ time away from patients and lead to staff burnout. As Gartner analyst Barry Runyon puts it, “Toil takes its toll.”

“Toil is work that is considered manual, repetitive, automatable and tactical, that scales linearly and has little enduring value,” Runyon writes in a September 2017 Gartner report. “Care delivery workflows are replete with toil. Some toil is necessary. But unnecessary and onerous toil that negatively impacts care team and nursing well-being, and contributes to staff burnout, is particularly insidious.”

This is especially during times – such as now – when it is difficult for provider organizations to fill nursing positions. As Reuters reported in October 2017, hospitals across the U.S. “are paying billions of dollars collectively to recruit and retain nurses rather than risk patient safety or closing down departments.”

“In addition to higher salaries, retention and signing bonuses, they now offer perks such as student loan repayment, free housing and career mentoring, and rely more on foreign or temporary nurses to fill the gaps,” according to Reuters.

Runyon recommends that healthcare provider CIOs “actively work with clinical leadership to eliminate unnecessary toil with real-time health system technologies.”

Any efforts to reduce toil, he advises, should begin by talking with nurses on staff and other care team members to identify unnecessary toil hidden in care delivery workflows. Results should be analyzed against industry benchmarks.

Once the tasks and activities that represent the most toil for nurses have been determined, providers should deploy real-time health system technologies to make workflows more efficient and clinical staff more productive, Runyon says. These can include clinical communication and collaboration platforms, secure texting, rounding tools, interactive patient care, and digital alarms and notifications.

“Whenever possible, healthcare provider CIOs should introduce technologies and systems that can reduce toil,” he concludes. “Improved care team effectiveness and morale, lower operational costs, and better patient outcomes will result from reducing toil, and time taken away from toil can be used to increase patient engagement.”

Runyon predicts that by 2022, half of the unnecessary toil currently endured by nurses and care teams will be reduced or eliminated through the deployment of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, and data analytics.