How to Use Data to Decrease Nurse Burnout and Improve Patient Care

By Madison Pittman

More than one-half of American physicians and one-third of nurses are experiencing symptoms of burnout, according to a 2018 article published in Cureus.

That’s a problem because clinician burnout — which is characterized by emotional exhaustion, cynicism, fatigue and physical ailments — is associated with higher-than-expected rates of hospital acquired infections (HAIs) and patient mortality. Nurse burnout also contributes to staff turnover and shortages, as exhausted staff may choose to leave healthcare rather than risking their emotional health and well-being.

The cost of staff burnout is significant. When Pennsylvania researchers examined 2006 data from 161 acute-care hospitals, they discovered that hospitals could save $41 million and prevent 4,160 cases of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and surgical site infections if they could reduce the proportion of burnt-out nurses from 30 percent to 10 percent.

Factors contributing to nurse burnout

Ironically, the very factors that make an individual an excellent healthcare provider may increase that individual’s risk for burnout. People who care deeply about their jobs, who are dedicated and determined to do their best at all times — as most healthcare providers are — often feel significant stress in work environments with long hours and staff shortages.

Unfortunately, the entire healthcare system is plagued by staff shortages. Demand for physicians is growing greater than supply, and the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortfall of approximately 122,000 physicians by 2032. The nursing workforce is growing (the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a 15% growth in the nurse population between 2016 and 2026), but that may not be enough to keep up with demand, particularly as Baby Boomers age.

Management matters

According to Christine Maslach, a preeminent burnout researcher, variables associated with burnout include:

  • Too much work
  • Long working hours
  • Chronic staff shortages
  • An aggressive administrative environment
  • Lack of support from management

Managers and administrators are often so focused on safety and reporting requirements that they fail to appreciate the impact of new initiatives on front-line staff.

“As new quality initiatives or legislation gets rolled out, responsibilities just keep getting piled on the plates of clinical staff,” says Chris Hermann, MD, PhD, CEO of Clean Hands Safe Hands. “People become burnt out, overworked and overwhelmed because every time something is added, nothing comes off the plate.”

Real-time data, such as the Real-Time Intervention Blueprints™ available to healthcare systems that use Clean Hands – Safe Hands automated hand hygiene system, can point to opportunities to address burnout and improve care.

Using data to pinpoint clinical inefficiencies

The Real-Time Intervention Blueprint™ helps hospitals identify clinical inefficiencies because it pinpoints unusual patterns of activity. Because Clean Hands – Safe Hands technology automatically logs every time staff members enter and leave a room, you’re able to spot rooms (or clinicians) with higher-than-normal activity, which allows you to investigate further to determine (and ultimately address) the root causes of activity surges.

One hospital, for instance, noticed that a few of their radiology technicians had unusually high numbers of patient interactions, especially when compared to their colleagues. Further investigation revealed that the process taught to all technicians was highly inefficient; the most efficient techs had actually abandoned the process they were taught and were using a more streamlined approach instead.

After discovering this information, hospital leaders reviewed their X-ray procedures, adopted a more efficient process and re-taught all technicians. As a result, staff are “doing a much better job,” Hermann says. They are saving time and cleaning their hands regularly — a step that was often skipped by technicians using the older, inefficient process.

Identify clinical needs in real time

Real-Time Intervention Blueprints™ can also help shift leaders address urgent clinical needs. When a patient is exhibiting concerning signs of instability, the nurse assigned to that patient may be in and out of the room multiple times within a very brief window of time. She’s busy monitoring the patient because she’s concerned about his clinical status.

She may not take time to ask for assistance simply because she’s focused on noticing and meeting the patient’s needs. She may be so focused that she’s reluctant to avert her attention long enough to reach out for help, even though additional staff may be exactly what’s needed to most deftly handle the situation.

 A hospital or unit that’s using Clean Hands – Safe Hands will be able to notice such unusual activity in real-time, giving charge nurses the opportunity to check in and see if the nurse needs additional help. Providing just-in-time assistance helps staff feel supported and decreases overwhelm, which may decrease the likelihood of nurse burnout and avert poor clinical outcomes.

If you would like to decrease nurse burnout, and gain new insights into your workflows, contact Clean Hands – Safe Hands today.

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