MedCity Influencers

Navigating nurse burnout in response to COVID-19

To avoid repeating past mistakes, healthcare leaders must introduce tools and processes that prepare nurses for the most dire circumstances.

As the number of known Covid-19 infections continues to increase and supplies dwindle at hospitals across the world, healthcare workers in the U.S. are under greater stress than ever. At the beginning of March, members of the National Nurses United union called on the CDC to quickly increase access to tests for Covid-19 and demanded that federal officials implement emergency standards for hospitals and clinics across the country.

Nurses must work long hours to treat sick patients while attempting to avoid contracting the illness, at times isolating themselves from family members to protect others from exposure. Even before the outbreak, 63% of hospital nurses reported experiencing burnout, a state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by long periods of stress.

Healthcare employers must respond to the concerns of their nurses and work to implement systems that help medical staff feel prepared and supported as tensions reach an all-time high. Implementing digital workplace technology that centralizes and accelerates communication allows health systems to respond to real-time changes while ensuring their workforces aren’t on the fast track to burnout.

Supporting nurses with digital workplace technology
People in the healthcare industry know that we no longer have the luxury of time or in-person meetings to create response plans. Rather, we must rely predominantly on digital communications to share critical information and updates. Coronavirus brings to the forefront the reality that every healthcare provider needs a digital workplace: it’s no longer a matter of if or when.

Without a method to communicate with your entire workforce in an instant, you lose valuable time during which a sick employee could quickly spread the illness to colleagues and patients. By leveraging a digital workplace tool that puts multiple modes of communications, training, and other means to share support on a centralized platform, hospitals and clinics can help prevent the spread and severity of Covid-19.

Boosting healthcare wellness during Covid-19
When workers don’t feel like they’re receiving sufficient information and training to perform their jobs, confidence decreases and anxiety increases, leading to negative outcomes for professionals and patients. Mandatory PPE trainings and lines of communications during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, for example, took so long that healthcare professionals reported not being ready for an emergency situation. To avoid repeating past mistakes, healthcare leaders must introduce tools and processes that prepare nurses for the most dire circumstances.

  1. Refresh disease preparedness training. Run-of-the-mill seasonal flu training and yearly outlooks didn’t help prepare medical professionals for treating patients with coronavirus. Rather than relying on stale, generic motions for reducing virus transmission, training must cover new considerations for responding to a crisis. With information about COVID changing daily, staff across clinics and hospitals need a way to offer ongoing on-demand digital resources on care — such as videos, quizzes and the latest headlines — with the ability to audit the consumption and retention of the information. More than ever, nurses are risking their own health to care for patients. They deserve the resources and tactics to keep themselves — and their patients — healthy and calm.
  2. Level up communication efforts. Too often, healthcare system communication is only top-down when it should be two-way, and even then, the information doesn’t always reach frontline employees. Typically, hospitals may have a central hub where staffers can access communication and watch the news. But with medical professionals busier than ever and communication delayed by the chaos, efficient information exchange becomes even more critical. Without knowing exactly what’s going on, staff may be offering compromised care while acting with outdated information. Employers must strive to close the lag time between receiving and disseminating updated information. When many of your workers are afraid, keeping them informed about updates to location hours, staffing, scheduling, and any new health and safety training makes a critical difference in both patient and employee well-being.
  3. Advocate for your nurses. Even before Covid-19 challenged stress and load levels for nurses across the globe, hospitals were struggling to combat the largest nursing shortage in decades. Now, high patient counts and the increased probability of contracting COVID are wearing nurses down more, often leaving them exhausted and underappreciated. In addition to planning processes that eliminate scheduling stress and simplifying shift coverage, a digital workplace platform allows leadership to offer praise and appreciation during a time where health organization administrators often can’t be on the front lines where their nurses are. Tapping into digital workplace technology allows managers to regularly recognize nurses’ great work with purpose through earned badges, increasing visibility of nurses’ accomplishments in real-time.

Improving processes and workplace tools has never been more critical. As a medical leader, you must demonstrate that you care about and will work to protect the physical and mental health of your essential personnel.