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  • Writer's picturePankaj Kumar

How AI and Other Innovations Can Ease the Nursing Shortage

Updated: Dec 14, 2023



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Article Excerpt

The nursing profession is facing a major shortage which has a serious impact on patients and healthcare providers. The shortage is driven by factors such as the aging US population, nurses retiring or leaving the profession, and insufficient training of new nurses to meet growing demands. One promising technology solution to improve efficiency and capacity of existing nursing staff is integration of artificial intelligence (AI) tools into nursing workflows and environments. AI has the potential to assist with administrative tasks, monitoring patients, conversations, documentation, education, and other aspects of the nursing role. In this article, we will discuss the shortage in nursing staff and explore traditional as well as technological solutions which can help your facility counter the continuous nursing staff crisis.

The crisis of nursing staff

If one had a recent visit to ER (Emergency Room) in Los Angeles, there is a high probability that they waited for three to four hours. These wait times are a serious problem for ER managers. Wait times can be a draining experience for your patients as well as nursing staff who often have to face "violent verbal abuse" from patients & their family members.


With a high turnover rate and continuous nursing staff shortage, it is estimated that healthcare industry could have a shortage of 2.1 million nurses by 2025. Faced with this unprecedented challenge, innovative solutions are needed to recruit and retain enough nurses to care for our aging population. AI offers promising tools, which could not only help improve nursing capacity for your facility, but also offer an alternative to the draining experience that patients have to go through today.

According to longitudinal research by McKinsey, in March 2023 forty-five percent of inpatient nurses reported that they were likely to leave their role by the end of the year, as they felt undervalued by their workplace or due to the unmanageable workload.

There is also aging in nursing workforce. Significant retirements are expected in nursing staff over the next decade, further exacerbating the situation and leaving care facilities to find an effective solution to the nursing shortage. Here, we review some traditional, yet effective solutions to counter the effects of nursing shortage, both in the short-term and long term.


Traditional solutions to the shortage of nursing staff

1. Nurses on Demand

By allowing nurses to work flexible hours or provide on-call services, your facility can effectively address staffing gaps through nurse staffing agencies, particularly during peak hours or periods of increased patient admissions. The utilization of crisis nurses, who are experienced professionals available on short notice, help hospitals and care homes deal with unexpected staffing emergencies. Some staffing agencies that provide such services include Nurse on demand, AMN healthcare and NurseDash. Many nurses also prefer to work for staffing agencies such as AllShifts, as they have excellent communication with their staff. The daily-basis salary system and other benefits, are also attractive to nurses.


2. Motivating nurses through opportunities for growth and development

Staffing agencies are useful to fill the scarcity of registered nurses at short notice, however this approach may prove costly to your facility. Retaining existing nursing staff should continue to be a priority for the benefit of your facility. There are real issues facing your nursing staff on daily basis.


30% of RNs exhibited high levels of burnout, 31% were dissatisfied with their job, and 72% reported missing one or more necessary care tasks on their last shift due to lack of time or resources.

As humans, we thrive to grow in whatever we do, including our professional lives. Challenges that impact us in a positive way, within a positive working environment go a long way in promoting staff satisfaction. This aspect can be overlooked in nursing, especially due to the increasing workload and staff shortages. Providing competitive salaries, comprehensive benefits packages, and a supportive work environment can improve nursing job satisfaction, which is an important factor to help increase the retention of nurses. In the process of retaining high performing nurses, it would be helpful for your facility to invest time and resources to encourage the professional and personal growth of your nurses. Over time, as you employ nursing students or young graduates, the availability of career development opportunities within your facility, or its surrounding area, could play an important role in their choice regarding where to work.


Your facility can also seek guidance from professional nursing organizations like American Nursing Association which play a crucial role in providing resources, networking opportunities, and educational support for nurses.


Technological innovations and AI solutions for nurses

In addition to traditional solutions, novel and emerging advancements in technology, such as AI implementation, some with EHR (Electronic Health Record System) integration, are proving beneficial to care facilities. Artificial Intelligence can help your facility staff in triaging patients, prioritizing care, and even predicting patient deterioration, enabling timely interventions and proactive management.


By partnering with AI technologies, your facility can help its nurses elevate their roles from routine tasks to more complex and critical decision-making, ultimately improving the quality and safety of patient care. These advancements are cost effective, help improve patient engagement, ease administrative loads, and provide better accessibility to healthcare services.


AI Assistant for nurses

One promising area of AI in nursing is the use of virtual assistants and chatbots to aid nurses with routine tasks. These AI assistants can help nurses by:


  • Answering simple patient questions. Chatbots such as Relic AI & Druid AI can have friendly conversations with patients and respond to common enquiries about medications, procedures, scheduling, etc.

  • Virtual nursing and telehealth. These technologies involve the use computer vision and sensing technology to watch patients in their hospital beds or homes. They can track vitals, movement, and behavior and alert nurses if intervention is needed. Companies such as Banyan Virtual Nursing offer telehealth technologies.

By automating repetitive administrative and data tasks, AI assistants give nurses more time for direct patient care and higher value responsibilities that require human judgment, empathy, and skill, hence improving job satisfaction and retention.


AI for clinical decision support

AI also has potential to assist with clinical decision making. A combination of professional judgement and AI recommendations can help optimize personalized and evidence-based patient care. By leveraging large datasets of medical records, AI systems can be trained to analyze patient health information and make diagnostic and treatment recommendations.


Some ways AI is advancing clinical decision support include:

  • Processing patient health records to detect risk factors, recognize symptoms, and suggest likely diagnoses that the nurse should consider. This can surface possibilities that a busy nurse may overlook.

  • Identifying the appropriate tests and analyzing test results. AI can also help prescribe the optimal medication and dosage suited to the patient's unique biology and health status. This enables precise, personalized medicine.

  • Recommending care plans tailored to the patient's condition, medical history, genetics, and lifestyle. This allows nurses to provide individualized treatment.


By combining large-scale data analytics with individual patient information, AI decision support systems such as Metadvice can augment staff's clinical knowledge. Overall, AI promises to amplify nurses' expertise and capacity to deliver data-driven care for optimal patient satisfaction.


AI and telehealth

Telehealth powered by AI is a thriving industry and has enormous potential to augment nursing care and increase access to quality healthcare. Here are some AI-enabled telehealth solutions that can help your facility address nursing shortages:


  • Remote patient monitoring through wearables and sensors that feed data to AI algorithms can enable nurses and doctors to track patients' vital signs and health conditions remotely. This allows your staff s to care for more patients without being limited by geography.

  • AI chatbots, triaging software and virtual assistants can provide patients with basic medical advice or triage 24/7, acting as a first line of healthcare before connecting patients to nurses and doctors.

  • Telemedicine powered by computer vision AI can analyze images, video and audio during remote doctor-patient consultations can assist clinicians in providing quality remote care and reduces the need for in-person appointments.

  • Natural language processing AI can transcribe clinical conversations between clinicians and patients accurately. This allows nurses and doctors to focus on care instead of documentation during telehealth sessions.

AI-enabled telehealth has vast potential to make healthcare accessible to all while allowing nurses to manage higher caseloads efficiently. Telehealth providers such as Teladoc Health have been on the rise.


AI to augment nursing education

Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform nursing education through the use of AI tutors and virtual simulations that provide personalized learning experiences. Institutes like Ohio State College of Nursing is already using such techniques to provide low stakes environment for students to gain clinical decision making experience.


AI for nurse scheduling

Artificial intelligence has promising applications for improving and optimizing nurse scheduling to help alleviate staffing shortages. If you are struggling with the nursing staff shortage, AI programs can take into account multiple factors like nurse skills, experience levels, patient needs, and staffing regulations to generate optimized schedules. Usage of scheduling tools, such as Polaris, can result in a reduction of nurse burnout and dissatisfaction. Your facility can get AI aided guidance to provide adequate staffing and include mixed skills on any given shift, hence reducing staffing shortages and the probability of nurses' burnout.


Other technological advancements in healthcare

Technological advancements such as AI implementation using electronic health records, telehealth, and mobile health applications are growing at a phenomenal rate. These technologies are helping streamline processes, enhance communication, and provide more efficient and accessible patient care with fewer human resources. Aside from AI technologies, healthcare technologies such as EHR (ex: AthenaONE), Collaboration Tools (ex: Smartsheet) could help your facility manage, track and perform care while ensuring security and effective collaborations. A number of organizations are already benefiting from these tools.


Technological giants such as Johnson & Johnson, Siemens Healthineers and IBM are continuously creating new technologies including AI-based implementations to help providers improve patient care and prognosis and increase positive outcomes among the population.


With these technologies such as Arterys, Corti, Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and Merative, your nurses and aspiring nurses who will join your facility in the future, can save time in data entry and administration, thereby enabling them to spend more face-time with patients and provide compassionate care. In the US, nurses spend between 25% and 41% of their time on documentation, and if reduced, this part of their shift could be allocated to improving safer care and quality time with patients instead. According to nurses who participated in the study by McKinsey, activities such as searching for individuals and equipment, as well as time spent on nutrition and daily living, could be allocated to support staff, which would enable nurses to use their skills and expertise for providing better care to patients.


How Relic AI could help you through the nursing staff shortage burden

At Relic AI, our focus has been on "Patient Satisfaction" while improving efficiency for "Care Giving Staff". Using pre-trained AI agents, that can read patient's health records and provide para clinical and logistical support to patients, your facility can reduce the burden on its nursing staff for patient conversations that do not need nursing time.


A proprietary guard rail system ensures that Relic AI does not answer medical queries and such queries are forwarded to your nursing staff for their attention. Relic AI is committed to being a responsible healthcare partner providing hassle-free solutions to augment your nursing care capacity. Our simple-to-use AI, with EHR integration, can assist patients in getting timely access to advice, while allowing your nursing staff to spend time addressing more critical patient queries, as required. Given the importance of compassionate care and therapeutic relationships that nurses have with patients and families, Relic AI is also tailored to provide emotional support to patients and their families.

 

Pankaj Kumar is Founder and CEO of Relic Care, building Conversational AI for Healthcare. In his past life, he had architected & built an eCommerce solution that had over a billion dollar of merchandise transacted. Pankaj had co-founded Ignify, that grew to be a leading ERP, CRM & Ecommerce solution provider that was acquired by Hitachi Solutions.

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