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Post-pandemic nursing workforce challenges continue to mount

The nurse and clinician workforce crisis in the United States is a complex issue with multiple contributing factors that include clinical staff burnout, unmanageable workloads, the departure of nurses reaching retirement age, and the pandemic’s lingering impact on health systems. A 2023 study by the American Hospital Association (AHA) found that the U.S. will face a physician shortage of as many as 124,000 by 2034 and will need to hire at least 200,000 nurses per year to meet increased demand and replace those retiring.

As health care leaders contend with staff shortages, budget constraints, and other challenges, they find themselves tasked with developing innovative strategies to ensure their teams can deliver compassionate, high-quality patient care.

From the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic up to the present, the relationship between patients and the clinicians who care for them has been substantially altered. Increasing workloads, coupled with the decreasing amount of time nurses can devote to personalized, one-on-one patient care, is taking a toll on patient health outcomes, nurse engagement, and job satisfaction.

At the heart of this problem is the time that nurses are devoting to administrative tasks.

In its 2023 report, “Reimagining the Nursing Workload: Finding Time to Close the Workforce Gap,” McKinsey & Company found that nurses spend only seven hours of a 12-hour shift on direct patient care. That equates to more than 40% of every nurse’s shift being devoted to tasks that utilize inefficient technology, such as scheduling, reporting, and peer communication with other clinicians. Additionally, a study by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) found that nurse managers spend up to 80% of their time on recruitment, staffing, and scheduling.

Research also reveals that health care leaders consider workforce challenges and nurse/clinician burnout as the leading threat that their hospitals and health systems face in 2024. A recent survey conducted by symplr with the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) revealed that an overwhelming majority of CIOs/IT leaders and clinicians agree that managing repercussions from staff shortages (97%), recruiting nurses from outside the organization (97%), and retaining nurses (96%) are critical challenges for their organization.

Respondents also indicate that clinician and nurse burnout/staffing challenges (41%) are the top threat to their organizations, surpassing financial pressure (39%), which was the top threat in 2022.

Reduce administrative burden and elevate patient care.

Although current nursing workforce trends depict a grim landscape, health system leaders have an opportunity at this critical juncture to give time back to nurses and improve organizational efficiency by integrating disparate technology. With the goal of reducing the administrative burden and elevating patient care, hospitals and health systems must take the critical and necessary step to implement efficient enterprise-wide software.

According to a report by Bain & Company, while the pace of technology consolidation and integration in recent years has been gradual, there’s been a notable surge in investment in IT solutions to address the administrative burden of clinicians. Nearly 80% of health care executives surveyed by Bain reported a substantial increase in spending over the past year, driven by the rise of new technologies, ongoing labor shortages, and mounting financial pressures.

Implement consolidated, integrated technology to give nurses time back.

Increasing investment in efficient technology will have a substantial impact on decreasing staff burden and improving patient care. A notable majority of CHIME CIOs/IT leaders and clinicians (84%) indicate that their organization’s workforce could redirect at least 10% more time to clinical care each week if their health care operations software were on a single platform. Additionally, some clinical leaders (15%) estimated they could redirect at least 50% more time to clinical care each week as a result of software consolidation. That time back could have a profound effect on patient outcomes, clinician retention, and job satisfaction. McKinsey & Company’s report on the nursing workload backs up these findings, revealing that the potential exists to free up 10 to 20% of nurses’ time and close the workforce gap by up to 300,000 nurses through technology enablement and improved delegation.

The burden of working with too many disconnected processes and systems for health care operations is standing in the way of improving patient care and nurses’ day-to-day lives. By implementing enterprise-wide, consolidated technology, hospitals and health systems can free up time for nurses to focus more on the work that they became nurses to do – providing quality care and connections with their patients and their families.

Karlene Kerfoot is a nurse executive.

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