Healthcare has faced monumental challenges over the last few years. COVID pushed hospitals beyond capacity. Organizations have had to grapple with treating more patients with fewer resources. And shifting patient expectations have forced providers to evolve more quickly to a rapidly changing consumer landscape.
But one outstanding sore point for the industry is a record staffing crisis. This problem and other factors have contributed to unprecedented friction across care — for patients, companies, and workers alike. And the frontlines have been hit hard.
As leaders address short-term and long-term causes that might sway employees to flee the field, digital health offers game-changing technology that could help with identifying and solving for points of friction that have multiplied over time to create the healthcare workforce crisis we know today.
What is nurse retention and why is it important?
Nurse retention references the rate at which healthcare organizations can keep talented RNs from seeking employment elsewhere — whether within the sector or in a different field altogether.
Retaining employees isn’t just a priority in healthcare. It’s a concept that spans industries. But healthcare leaders have had to face outstanding retention challenges — with extraordinary turnover rates among nurses. One study found nurse turnover rose 8.4% between 2020 and 2021, bringing the national average to ~27%. As continuity of care is associated with patient satisfaction, losing nurses doesn’t just hurt hospitals from an operational standpoint — it can affect the patient experience.
The stakes are even higher as we view nurse retention through a fiscal lens. The 2022 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report discovered the average cost for nurse turnover hovered over $46k per RN in 2021. Furthermore, a 1% change in nurse turnover could save or cost the average hospital $262,300 per year. And as costs rise and revenues decline for most hospitals, course-correcting has never been more urgent.
With healthcare staffing challenges only projected to worsen in the next several months across the country, the time to reverse the trend is now.
What factors affect nurse retention?
Although each individual nurse might face different circumstances that encourage them to reconsider — or continue pursuing — their careers in health, some concerning patterns that consistently contribute to nurse retention challenges have emerged.
1. Healthcare workforce burnout
One of the main reasons nurses leave their jobs. There’s no question the stress the pandemic placed on everyone — nurses in particular — took a heavy toll on mental health. A 2021 American Nurses Foundation study revealed that, among nurses aged 34 years and younger, 81% reported feeling exhausted, 71% reported feeling overwhelmed, and 65% reported being anxious or unable to relax. But COVID isn’t the only reason. Nurse burnout has been on the rise since several years before coronavirus hit the scene. Even more sobering, physician suicide rates double the U.S. national average.
2. Lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
Healthcare has faced inequity challenges for a long time. And COVID’s emergence propelled health equity from a sideline concern to a top priority for hospitals across the nation. But addressing care disparities is not just important for serving patients. It’s also essential for retaining team members. Some research suggests healthcare workers who don’t feel their company values employees from different backgrounds are over 4x more likely to leave their job within three years.
3. Feeling unsupported
Although hospitals have made progress in recruiting new nurses to fill vacancies caused by the pandemic, staffing is still down from pre-COVID levels. And as teams lose talent, nurses who stay in their professions receive less and less peer support. 80% of nurses say their units are understaffed. And as hospitals need more and more RNs to care for aging populations, healthcare workers become stretched thin and have fewer coworkers to fill in when they need time to decompress.
4. Working in an unsafe environment
The truth is that care teams face increasingly dangerous work atmospheres. Two nurses are assaulted every hour. And healthcare workers are 5x more likely to experience violence in the workplace than employees in all other professions.
How to start improving nurse retention using digital health
Healthcare’s staffing crisis isn’t going to be solved overnight. Indeed, the industry needs to incorporate multiple solutions at different levels to confront this challenge. But advanced digital health platforms like Memora Health can help organizations begin to address some friction points that contribute to nurse turnover.
Digital health can play a key role in helping your organization retain valuable team members by:
1. Simplifying care team operations
As nurses experience burnout and increased productivity expectations due to staff shortages, simplifying operations can unburden them from friction that could cause even more stress. When researching solutions, consider digital health platforms with single-sign-on (SSO) and that integrate seamlessly with existing infrastructure. That way, your staff don’t have to remember new passwords or toggle between applications when accessing a specific software function or seeking the information they need.
2. Eliminating routine tasks
RNs don’t only help patients in hospitals. They also follow up with them after discharge to ensure they follow their care plans and understand next steps. This responsibility can feel like an added weight on the shoulders of nurses who already compensate for increased patient volumes, slashed budgets, and withering staff levels. The best digital healthcare platforms help your organization free up productivity hours for your nurses by automating routine tasks like medication reminders, scheduling, and patient check-ins.
3. Moving automation beyond simple text appointment reminders
Although some healthtech companies offer automated care solutions, many of them are limited to sending patients canned messages to remind them about appointments. But what happens when these same patients have questions about healing at home? Usually, they would have to call or message their providers with often routine questions — possibly distracting clinicians from top-of-license care. Digital health platforms that provide your patients with education resources, answers to their questions, and personalized check-ins are ideal for digitizing administrative tasks and reducing inbox messages for your nurses and staff.
4. Cutting down on burdensome care-related paperwork
Let’s say your team develops an analog workaround to streamline operations and follow-up. Your RNs would still need to document everything, and that would produce a lot of paperwork. Plus, they would need to input information into existing EHRs manually. Effective digital health platforms track communication, patient data, and other details throughout care journeys automatically — without the need for pen and paper. That means your providers have all the information they need — when they need it — at their fingertips, making their workflows more convenient and less stressful.
5. Intelligently engaging patients with healthcare AI and natural language processing (NLP)
The best digital health platforms can help unburden your care teams. But solutions that simply automate responses and refer patients to information portals for advice still cause friction for everyone involved. Look out for technology that leverages healthcare AI and NLP to intelligently engage patients, help people manage care at home without the need for phone calls, and reduce inbox messages for your providers.
6. Helping providers manage population health
The U.S. population is aging. The 85 and older demographic is expected to double by 2040 — from 6.6 million to 14.4 million. Add in evolving public health challenges, the strain on care teams will only increase as time goes on. Get ahead of the curve by adopting digital health platforms that help your teams efficiently manage population health — technology that helps providers reach more patients and deliver better at-home care, faster and easier than ever.
7. Streamlining communication
It’s not enough to just implement a patient-facing digital health solution. You need one that will streamline communication between providers and get people the help they need, when they need it. The right healthtech offers functions for providers to view patient interactions with intelligent automation, review reported patient issues, and triage patients to the right care provider — all within one system.
The healthcare workforce is at the center of delivering high-quality care. That’s why unburdening care teams is so vital to building a more sustainable and resilient health system. And putting the right digital health tools in place will be crucial for supporting providers as the healthcare industry faces more complex challenges with greater frequency.