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May 12, 2020

Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare systems and they need our help. Here’s what we need to do

Estimated reading time: 6-8 minutes

It’s International Nurses Day and I can’t think of a better time to reflect on the crucial role these incredible women and men play in fighting the global pandemic we’re all living through. Nurses make up the largest section of healthcare workers worldwide; they are often the first faces we see when we arrive at hospital, and the people who check up on us if we’re ill at home. By providing both clinical and emotional support for patients, I’d argue that they’re the beating heart of our healthcare communities. And yet when I speak to nurse friends and ex colleagues these days, they say they’re more in need of support than ever before. Here are my thoughts on how we can help them.

 

As global cases surge past 3.8 million, skyrocketing demand for care has shed light on a critical global issue: there are simply not enough nurses. As emergency rooms overflow and the system begins to buckle under the strain of the pandemic, hospital administrators are having to find creative ways to meet the staffing needs. Some hospitals are employing retired healthcare professionals to backfill areas in the hospital where they may not be taking care of COVID-19 patients to free up other nurses, and others are pulling in nurses from non-clinical roles such as a quality department. The UK even launched COVID-19 temporary registration emergency legislation to expand the nursing workforce to suitable, experienced people. With the need for more staff, the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is an even more important issue. While PPE would be a given under normal conditions, nurses are now being asked to ration and reuse the limited supplies they have.

 

What can we do? I think it’s critical we equip nurses with the means to have unobstructed visibility into their patients’ well-being, whether it is from the patient’s home, or within the hospital. Regular monitoring touch points via connected at-home devices can empower nurses to ensure patients who aren’t sick enough to be admitted are able to be cared for remotely. Research shows that many nurses are ready for this. The 2020 Future Health Index (FHI) Report  found that nearly four out of five younger nurses believe that digital health technologies can positively impact patient outcomes and experiences.

 

Within the hospital, there are three key ways we can support our nurses. First, as many nurses are being asked to take on responsibilities that they may not normally own, training materials are a must. For example, video tutorials can help them get up to speed quickly, from invasive ventilation, to basic patient monitoring.

The silver lining of an otherwise devastating pandemic is that it showcases the selfless work that is happening in hospitals around the world, which often goes unnoticed in calmer times. 

Cindy Gaines

Chief Nursing Officer Population Health Management, Philips

Secondly, given the surge of patients in critical care, the number of monitoring system alerts calling a nurse’s attention can lead to alarm fatigue. Patient monitoring solutions that triage these alerts and are configurable to each organization’s workflow help nurses understand the source and risk associated with each. 

 

Lastly, because the safety of our nurses is paramount, we must limit their contact with infected patients as much as possible by offering monitoring solutions that support their ability to provide care outside of a patient’s room. We have seen health systems adopt ways to limit staff exposure, such as running cords outside of patient rooms to monitors and IV pumps, or implement remote bed viewer solutions or use remote controls. Even in the aftermath of COVID-19, we can expect that the adoption of contactless monitoring solutions – such as wearable biosensors or camera-based systems that can measure vitals without the need for human touch – will continue to grow.

 

Last year, my father was hospitalized with pneumonia and I was able to comfort him at his bedside. I cannot imagine only communicating with him over the phone or through a nurse, which is the case for the families of COVID-19 patients. Nurses recognize how hard this is. They are human – they see how painful and real the separation is, and it’s breaking their hearts too. The more we can support care in the home during the early stages of the disease, the better. And once a patient is moved to hospital, my nurse friends tell me that it helps families enormously to be able to see their sick relative and talk to them via connected devices.

 

This shift to the home is crucial. This pandemic is occurring while reimbursement continues to move toward value-based care. Organizations that leverage population health management platforms can keep better track of each patient’s care journey, close gaps in care, and intervene early for rising-risk patients. These platforms are helping healthcare organizations identify and prioritize their high-risk patient populations based on specific code sets related to COVID-19. 

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These preconfigured assessments may allow them to manage patients who may have been diagnosed with the virus, or those who have received screening. For example, Groene Hart Hospital in the Netherlands is using Philips’ COVID-19 monitoring solution to manage their increasing patient volumes, which facilitates the use of online screening, follow-up questionnaires and monitoring from a patients home to prevent unnecessary hospital visits.

 

I think this will go some way to reducing burnout among nurses too. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, nurses were already under immense strain. The FHI Report showed that nearly three out of every four younger healthcare professionals experience work-related stress. And of those surveyed, about one out of three has considered leaving the healthcare profession as a result of this stress, with nurses being most likely to do so. We need to pay very close attention to this younger generation of nurses on the front lines of COVID-19 and learn from them to do everything we can to help improve their work-life balance moving forward. 

 

This pandemic will give us an opportunity to learn, grow, and be better prepared for the next crisis. So often, we think of healthcare as an institution. But the heroes on the front lines are moms and dads, sons and daughters, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors. They are sacrificing their health and the opportunity to be at home with their loved ones to do everything they can to care for their patients. Equipping these individuals with the resources and supplies they need to perform their duties and provide care for patients safely and effectively is critical.

 

When this is all said and done, we will have learned how heroic our healthcare professionals really are. The silver lining of an otherwise devastating pandemic is that it showcases the selfless work that is happening in hospitals around the world, which often goes unnoticed in calmer times. If we all encourage kindness, celebrate humor and be a little more understanding, we can help them get through this, and be inspired by their sacrifices.

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Cindy Gaines

Cindy Gaines

Chief Nursing Officer Population Health Management, Philips

Cindy has over thirty-two years of healthcare experience, splitting time between serving as a nurse, a president of administration, and an executive responsible for PHM at a large medical group in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

 

It was there that Cindy first partnered with Philips, witnessing the potential to make a true difference in patient care and the provider experience, leveraging health IT solutions designed with the user in mind. Her decision to join Philips was driven by her desire to improve care delivery on a bigger scale, and work with a variety of customers to develop innovative ways to accomplish ambitious goals.

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