Advisory Board is kicking off research to better understand what role technology should (or shouldn't) play in supporting clinical staff. With workforce issues top of mind, leaders are searching for new solutions to support clinicians and fill staffing gaps at their organizations.
There's a variety of technology in the market that promises to support clinicians, but leaders often struggle to prioritize solutions and lack the resources to invest in new, often unproven solutions.
Our early research uncovered three key things about clinical workforce technology and here's what we've learned so far:
Turning to technology to support clinicians is not a new idea. Some leaders have already invested in ambient listening solutions that help clinicians with documentation or automated intake that collects patient information before the visit. But most of the time, technologies were implemented to make physicians more efficient with less of a focus on supporting other members of the care team, like nurses. Technology investments in physician workflows are prioritized for a few reasons.
First, physicians are seen as revenue drivers. The majority of healthcare organizations operate under a financial model that depends on patient visits: the more patients that come in, the more revenue the health system collects. Under this model, leaders prioritize technologies that extend physicians' capacity to see more patients and, in turn, drive revenue.
On the other hand, nurses are seen as part of the cost center. In hospitals, nursing costs are billed as part of the patient room fee, and not based on the number of services provided. Since nursing services are folded into costs, there's not the same financial incentive to invest in extending nursing capacity.
Physicians are also seen as "partners" to the organization and typically play a bigger role in the evaluation of new technology solutions than other members of the care team. But continued RN shortages make it more urgent now than ever to give nursing a voice in technology decision-making and investments.
An unstable nursing workforce negatively impacts an organization's potential to fulfill its mission, keep beds open, and will even affect market share over the long-term. Leaders need to invest in a digital strategy that prioritizes improving nursing efficiency just as they've done with the physician workforce.
There's potential for technology to take on administrative and repetitive tasks that take time away from caregiving — the reason why many clinicians chose healthcare as a profession. Too often, however, poorly implemented technology takes clinicians away from patients and increases the risk that clinicians resist other technology solutions.
For example, the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) led to clinicians spending even more time on documentation because of its low usability, which made data entry complex. Leaders should consider technology that reduces administrative work, like data collection and documentation, to give clinicians more time back in their day to provide direct patient care.
Solutions include real-time ambient listening technologies that can transcribe the entirety of a patient-clinician interaction or asynchronous questionnaires that automatically populate the relevant fields in the patient's medical record.
It's also important for organizations to be principled and specific about how clinicians will use the time saved. Too often we heard leaders vaguely reference "giving clinicians back time" without having a plan for what clinicians will do, or not do, in that time.
Recruiting and retaining clinicians now and in the future will depend heavily on how health care organizations leverage technology to make clinicians' work easier and more efficient. As younger, tech-savvy generations enter the workforce, clinicians will expect technology to be an integral part of their workflow and will choose to work for organizations that invest in technology that allows staff to spend more time on patient care, rather than documentation.
Organizations that do not provide technology in this area will have a harder time attracting and retaining staff who use technology consistently outside of the workplace.
Technology is not the sole answer to clinical workforce issues. Before investing more in technology, take the time to evaluate workforce policies, initiatives, and resources already at your organization's disposal. How can your organization expand the reach of initiatives and resources that are working well? Is there an opportunity to maximize policies like flexible work arrangements at your organization? These are questions that your organization should answer with action before turning to technology.
Even when technology is the answer, it doesn't have to be the newest, shiniest technology. Refocusing your efforts on the technology you know works can make all the difference. The organizations that have spent the most time thinking about their workforce start by making current solutions easier to use instead of jumping to new investments.
In order to optimize new and existing technology, look at your current processes and workflows to see if they'd benefit from a redesign. For example, leaders told us they started with improving existing order sets so that clinicians don't have to do as many "clicks" in the EHR.
The idea of continuous improvement is a welcome message to all: leaders are happy that they don't need to spend money on a new thing and clinicians are grateful that they aren't being asked to learn yet another new technology.
As we continue our research, here are some of the questions that are guiding our work:
Interested in adding to the conversation? Our team would love to hear your thoughts as we continue our research. Please email Giorgio Piatti at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marissa Goodall at email@example.com to schedule a research interview.
Today’s clinical workforce is unsustainable. Without major changes to care delivery, traditional challenges like burnout and turnover — especially among early career staff — will diminish quality of care. Status quo solutions and quick fixes are not enough; healthcare organizations must rethink the ways they’re using clinical technology to reduce administrative burden, increase operational efficiency, and redesign care delivery to provide best-in-class care for patients while maintaining a manageable staffing budget.
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