The Hospital Room: Preventing Nurse Burnout with In-Room Technology

This opinion piece contributed by Draper voices today's digital platforms can help eliminate the administrative burden on nurses.

Imagine being a marathon runner mere yards from the finish line. You’re about to be rewarded with a medal and all the pride and accolades that come with accomplishing an impressive feat of mental and physical toughness. Suddenly, someone runs out, picks up the finish line, and carries it away, another 26.2 miles down the road.

That’s what it feels like to be a nurse right now.

I understand. I’m a military veteran and registered nurse myself. I experienced the impact of nurse burnout on the healthcare industry long before the COVID-19 pandemic. A quick Google search will find that the industry has been sounding the “nurse burnout” alarm for years.

Unfortunately, with the Delta variant now surging, nurses continue to wage a war that they thought would soon be over. We cannot kick the can any longer; we must prioritize ways to preserve nurses’ mental and physical health by addressing burnout head on.

According to a recent New York Times article, more than 1,200 nurses have died from COVID-19. This adds a layer of fear and anxiety to a profession that was already vocally exhausted, overburdened, and feeling unappreciated. The world needs nurses now more than ever. So how can we support, retain, and reward them?

A hospital technology leader recently said something that resonated with me. They said, “we have the technology available today to turn the patient’s hospital room into an extra member of the care team.” Every floor in every hospital could use an extra resource, and technology can fill that gap. A nurse’s day is consumed by redundant and tedious administrative tasks such as updating dry erase whiteboards, documentation, shuttling water pitchers to patients, responding to the call bell, and -- more recently during times of COVID-enforced visitor restriction -- troubleshooting technology to help patients connect with loved ones.

While these tasks are all important, as they contribute significantly to the patient’s experience while hospitalized and can affect the patient’s clinical outcomes, they are all things a technology-enabled environment can do for the nursing staff. Today’s digital platforms can help eliminate the administrative burden on nurses. A tech-enabled room can turn the patient’s TV into a personalized command center with the patient, their caregivers, and their overall wellness at the center. When integrated with the EHR, patient engagement platforms help nurses automate the assignment and documentation of patient education; personalize content based on factors such as age, condition, and education level; and adapt the experience based on literacy, language, and cultural needs.

Another key feature of today’s digital platforms is that this can all be done while providing distraction therapy. Quality movies, television, and calming content can distract patients in a positive way. Patients who are relaxed and enjoying entertainment are less likely to press the call button, they’re happier and less demanding, and research has shown that they don’t require as much pain medication.

Similarly, a touchscreen tablet extends the platform to the bedside, letting patients and families request services, provide feedback, and participate in their care plan. Hospitals can route service requests more quickly to the right department, and by digitizing hospital information, handbooks, care team profiles, and even food menus, they can eliminate the dependency on the nurse call button. Empowering patients and families allow nurses to focus on clinical care and helping patients understand their conditions and treatments.

To that end, nurses spend a lot of time educating patients, using teach-back to verify comprehension, and documenting that in the EHR. This presents another opportunity to streamline the workday with technology. Video education can be automatically prescribed to patients based on their diagnosis, and content can be seamlessly delivered to the patient with comprehension questions at the end. Patients learn in their own way and can bring any remaining questions to the clinical staff after they receive the information and internalize it. Viewed education can be automatically documented, saving nurses from having to log more information in the patient record.

Another way that technology can free nurses of administrative tasks is the in-room whiteboard. Nurses spend a lot of time updating the dry erase boards in patient rooms, but only after they find a working marker!Digital whiteboards can eradicate this age-old manual task by integrating with the EHR to automatically display real-time patient information, medication, rounding activity, care team profiles, schedules, and more. Consider the impact of an integration with real-time location systems (RTLS)--when a care team member enters the room the whiteboard automatically informs the patient via a pop-up notification. If the team really wants to be able to write on it, simply add a stylus that’s tethered to the board (and therefore won’t go missing).

The pandemic revealed the value of the human connection and the challenges that arise when people are isolated. Video chat emerged as the primary way to connect patients with loved ones near and far, while also bringing in clinicians for family consults as needed. However, commercial solutions aren’t designed for healthcare. Nurse leaders I’ve spoken with said that on average, they troubleshoot thirteen video calls per shift. That’s valuable time they could be spending delivering care. Hospital leaders can alleviate that with platforms that don’t require software downloads, account creation, or usernames and passwords. These solutions also let clinicians “call in” to patient rooms to check on them without garbing up in PPE, saving critical time and resources while giving patients a much-needed lifeline.

Imagine a patient room that, upon the report of a code blue, automatically drops the thermostat by 2 degrees for patient safety and in anticipation of multiple clinicians entering the room. The TV instantly becomes a safety tool, displaying life-saving patient information such as allergies and/or comorbidities. The technology is here, and when optimized to support nurses, it can truly move the needle on nurse burnout.

Lastly, we should never forget the value of showing appreciation for those who are risking their lives to keep patients safe. Nursing can be a thankless job, but even if you have limited resources for new technology, a “thank you” is always free.