Healthcare Business and Technology: The Surprising Role of the Internet of Things in Addressing Clinician Shortages

By Chris Hermann

The clinician shortage is a dilemma for most hospitals today. It’s projected that the size of the RN workforce will be nearly 20% below projected requirements by 2020 and the physician shortfall will rise to nearly 122,000 by 2032. These shortages have a far-reaching ripple effect. They can lead to burnout, low morale and high turnover, all of which have a negative impact on patient satisfaction and care.

Labor is a hospital’s biggest expense. It’s a cost that shortages are making worse as hospitals increase pay, offer bonuses and boost benefits to attract and retain talent. The negative impact this has on financial stability and profit margins is evident and relief isn’t expected for years to come.

What can healthcare systems do about this challenge?

Some are turning to technology and discovering the surprising impact that capturing and using clinical intervention data can have on workflows, as well as clinician fatigue and burnout. For example, IoT sensors can detect when a healthcare provider is entering and exiting a patient’s room. Sensors can also identify which clinician is visiting the patient. Forward-thinking hospitals are leveraging this clinical intervention data to help address staffing shortages in three key ways:

1. Measuring Shift Fatigue: IoT sensors can measure shift fatigue. While many hospitals require nurses to check on their patients at least once an hour, this frequency doesn’t always happen. In fact, our data shows that during day shifts, patient visits typically drop precipitously between noon and 4 pm. When hospital leaders have this clinical intervention data, they can easily pinpoint outliers and times when providers appear to be suffering from shift fatigue. Using data to understand when problems occur, leaders can investigate the root cause and devise solutions.

2. Measuring Frequency: Data can be captured to show how frequently particular clinicians are checking on individual patients. Even with the same patient, providers will visit patients with vastly different frequencies. This is a concern for two reasons. On the one hand, consider a nurse who is in and out of the patient room a lot. She may be one of the best nurses on the unit, always popping in to check on patients and helping colleagues. However, with rapid activity for 12 hours in a row, she’s at risk for burnout. There may be workflow issues that can be addressed, which could make everyone on the unit more efficient.

On the other hand, there are other concerns to consider for the nurse who doesn’t check on patients as often. While he may not be so busy that he’ll burn out soon, he may have a motivation problem that could lead to turnover. Lack of action can be an indicator of other problems that should be investigated. Not to mention, his patients could be at risk for falls, pressure ulcers or other problems that arise when patients are left alone for lengthy stretches of time.

IoT data can help hospital leaders identify outliers and quickly see where the problems exist and take steps to resolve them.

3. Tracking Exposure: IoT sensors can help with exposure tracing. Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence for a patient to be diagnosed with a highly contagious organism, such as Tuberculosis or Neisseria Meningitidis. When this occurs, every provider on the unit must be tested and may need prophylactic therapy. This isn’t only expensive but can contribute to antimicrobial resistance and cause other health problems among clinicians.

Today, data can be captured to show which providers were in the infected patient’s room, how many times they were in the room and for how long. We now can use this data to pinpoint which providers had the greatest exposure to the patient and target therapies appropriately. This often can reduce the number of providers who have to be treated from a hundred or more to just a handful, saving money for the healthcare organization and hassle for the staff.

Today’s technology allows hospitals to gather data that wasn’t available previously. Clinical intervention data, information on when providers are visiting patients, can be leveraged in a multitude of ways to improve workflows, identify problems and reduce costs. Most importantly, IoT data is a promising solution for addressing clinician shortages and burnout for more productive and happy clinicians and better patient outcomes.

Click here to read the original article in Healthcare Business and Technology.

Chris Hermann, MD, is the founder and CEO of Clean Hands-Safe Hands. He has a PhD in Bioengineering, an MS in Mechanical Engineering and a BS in Biomedical Engineering.

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