It’s no secret that there’s a significant global nursing shortage – or that it could be twice as bad in the next 10 years. Today, we need 5.9 million more nurses to have a right-sized workforce. The problem is that four million nurses are expected to retire around the world in the next decade. In the U.S. alone, a McKinsey & Company report projects a shortage of up to 450,000 nurses within just three years if action is not taken.
But natural turnover resulting from retirement is not the problem.
Neither is recruitment.
We’re attracting more people to the nursing profession every day. We just can’t get them to stay very long. In fact, a major culprit of the current shortage is turnover among early career nurses. Eighteen percent of nurses leave their jobs or the field altogether within just one year of graduation. An additional one-third leave within two years of graduation.
The financial cost of this trend is immense and disturbing. According to the 2022 National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report, the average cost of turnover for a bedside registered nurse (RN) is $46,100. At the current turnover rate, which is currently around 25%, the average hospital is losing $5.2 million to $9 million each year.
Therefore, the most significant means healthcare executives have to minimize the impact of the nursing shortage – and reduce both labor and operational costs – rests with retaining the nurses they currently have. But how? What will it take to keep nurses happy and committed to your hospital?
Let’s look at the facts. As Lisa Lockhart, MHA, MSN, RN, NE-BC wrote in the March/April 2020 edition of her journal Nursing Made Incredibly Easy!, “Shift length is one of the most cited causes of nursing turnover, with organizations that utilize 12-hour shifts reporting challenges with retention. Becker's Hospital Review indicates that the three main reasons for nursing turnover are relationships, including peer-to-peer relationships on the unit and rapport with nurse leaders; staffing; and personal obligations.”
From this passage we can determine that nurses leave because they feel undervalued, unsupported, and/or overstressed. In fact, the McKinsey survey of RNs found that “the most influential factors of whether to stay in role included safety, flexibility (such as work–life balance, work schedule), and environment (for example, a trusting/caring team, feeling valued by organization, doing meaningful work).” The good news is that there are technology tools you can use to positively impact all three of those areas.
One of the most effective ones could be a unified communication platform, as it can help nurses stay connected with colleagues who can support them, give them an easy way to manage their time and collaborate on tasks, and even provide a measure of safety.
Unified communication solutions are software applications that augment mobile devices (think smartphones, mobile computers, etc.) with the features and functions of many different apps, like those used for texting, calling, locationing, task management and more. Here are some examples of what you can offer your nurses via the right unified communication solution on their clinical mobile devices:
1. Better sense of empowerment
Healthcare is not a solo endeavor, and even the most seasoned nurses need guidance from colleagues during each shift. A unified communication solution enables them to reach out and request help in a split second to multiple people. It also allows them to be reached by others who might need their help. When your care team can work collaboratively, even as they’re dispersed across a floor or campus, the work doesn’t seem as lonely or overwhelming. Outcomes may also be better. This helps with job satisfaction and retention.
Plus, it’s very possible that, at some point in their careers, many of your nurses will start to feel either overwhelmed, overstressed, or bored with their jobs. If and when that happens, cross-training could be used as countermeasure to staffing losses. Empowering them to take on roles in other departments or even new roles within their current department could relieve their feelings of mundanity and boredom and prevent them from leaving.
However, you’ll need to make their transition to the new role easy and their success quick.
If they have access to a unified communication solution on their clinical mobile device, they’ll be able to reach the people and retrieve the information needed to guide them through new responsibilities. For example, the profile management feature can give each nurse access to the tasks and functions of various departments for which they may be asked to support, such as the ER, clinic, etc. They can only access systems and tools tied to their credentials, even if they’re sharing a mobile device with colleagues who have different roles and credentials. What’s really helpful is that this feature makes providing cross-functional backup during busy times even more seamless. If a nurse is asked to cover for a colleague who is out sick or flow to another team for a day to deal with a patient surge, they can pull up the unified communications app and automatically see contact lists and connect with the team members they’ll be working with that day without having to figure out who those “right” team members are. A simple touch of a button is all that’s needed to aid in another department or request assistance from a colleague. Suddenly, it becomes easier to conduct vital checks, conduct consults, coordinate lab and radiology visits, and complete the triage, transfer, discharge and turnover processes.
Remember, nurses appreciate anything you can do to make their jobs easier. By breaking down traditionally siloed communications structures and giving them a way to work collaboratively with other staff across healthcare functions, you are naturally removing some of the burden of their busy workloads. Though you may say “adding a unified communication app is just a small change to their workflow,” this gesture speaks volumes about your commitment to their happiness and well-being. It shows them that you understand both the importance and challenges of their jobs and value their contributions.
2. A safety net
A nurse shortage inevitably means those nurses who are available must cover more ground – and often alone. It has become increasingly common for nurses to cover large areas of vast healthcare facilities by themselves. This can create a significant safety issue, as an emergency situation could arise when the nurse is far from backup.
Unified communication solutions provide a beacon of hope. The best solutions contain emergency call features that are auto prioritized. Should a nurse encounter a threatening situation and need backup, a simple push of the emergency button quickly overrides all other calls in progress and routs assistance to their position, whether they are inside or outside their facility.
But what if the nurse cannot access the emergency call button? Perhaps they’ve been attacked by a combative patient or intruder. Or perhaps the nurse has actually suffered a sudden, incapacitating medical emergency like a seizure. The right unified communications solution will come further equipped with a “drop detect” feature that identifies when a nurse’s device has fallen and hit the ground. A lack of response post-impact alerts security and management to the situation and location of the incident, ensuring that the nurse is never out of reach of assistance.
3. Better sense of appreciation
Nurses appreciate and deserve recognition and praise for their heroic actions every day. Unfortunately, busy leaders are not always in a position to provide daily rounding, especially when the deserving recipient(s) could be anywhere in a massive health facility and said leader is tied to their office for the day. This is an example of a communication gap, and one that, if not addressed, can lead many nurses to feel unnoticed and underappreciated for their work.
Seamless group communication is a hallmark of the best unified communication solutions. A supervisor can easily express their appreciation or gratitude to staff by simply selecting an individual (“Colleen Smith,” “Patient 332’s bedside nurse”) or a premade group (“All on-duty nurses,” “Trauma Unit 2 nurses,” “Patient 332’s nursing team”) and sending a message. The nurses enjoy a sense of appreciation, and the feedback provider more easily performs their duty of empowering their staff members.
4. Increased floor support
One of the toughest challenges faced by nurses is patient overload, especially when they must cover multiple areas at once. Unified communication solutions offer locationing capabilities for easy task delegation and collaboration – a huge advantage in patient care.
Consider an ER nurse who is called away from her patients to assist with a new arrival. As she takes the new patient’s vitals, her device indicates that her assigned patient in room 322 has pressed the HELP button. The nurse next looks in the locationing component of her solution and sees that her backup nurse, Ethan Crosby, is still at the ER nurse station. Knowing now that he is nearby, all a nurse must do is say into her device, “Call Ethan Crosby” or push a button and ask him to help. Both patients receive needed care thanks to seamless collaboration enabled by locationing.
5. Easier task management
A nurse’s day is full of judgement calls and real-time decision-making, both of which cause undue stress. Unified communication solutions with task management capabilities remove some of the guesswork by automatically prioritizing a nurse’s routine tasks, like taking vitals, administering medication and assessing symptoms.
Naturally, emergency situations will arise, forcing the nurse to change plans. An effective task tracker ensures they can easily pivot from routine tasks during the emergency, then easily switch back after emergencies pass.
Hear what other clinicians have to say about mobile technology and unified communications solutions: