Is Staffing in Perioperative Care at a Crisis Point?

By Rick Halton, VP of Marketing, Lumeon

As we continue to navigate the “COVID-era” this Thanksgiving, nurses and other healthcare workers will look to restitch their badly frayed nerves by relaxing, reflecting, and spending time with their families. But will it be enough downtime to recharge them for more trying times ahead?  

The unrelenting challenges from the past 18-20 months have been too much for many of them. Insights from our recent survey of 85 surgery leaders revealed a notable thread: staffing shortages are paramount as providers attempt to ramp back up to pre-COVID levels of care and handle the backlog of delayed surgeries.  

Our previous blog post about the survey mentions that “the top operational challenges respondents identified in ramping back up to pre-COVID volumes are staffing capacity, coverage, flexibilityand support.” 

The focus on this problem is so prevalent that it’s reasonable to ask whether healthcare staffing has reached a crisis point. In another recent blogCindy Gaines, RN, MSN, and Lumeon’s chief clinical transformation officer, describes just how dire the situation is among nurses: 

After almost two years of the coronavirus pandemic, many nurses have retired or left the profession entirely. Most of those who are still practicing are tired, burnt-out, and being stretched thin to provide high-quality of care under very difficult circumstances. 

It’s telling that the American Nurses Association (ANA) has requested that the Department of Health and Human Services declare the nurse staffing shortage a national crisis. 

And it’s no wonder that 38% of our survey respondents saw staff burnout and retention as their institution’s top short-term challenge, and 45% saw it as their top long-term challenge. In fact, 84% of our survey respondents placed staff burnout and retention among the top three short-term challenges, and 76% put it among the top three long-term challenges.  

Meanwhile, with some staff retiring or quitting, staff recruitment is also a priority for many healthcare leaders. Sixty percent of respondents saw recruitment as among providers’ top three short-term concerns, while 52% saw it among the top three long-term issues.  

In short, survey respondents identified staff burnout, retention, and recruitment as far-and-away the most pressing concerns and priorities for their organizations in both short- and long-term time frames.  

These numbers are confirmed by observation. “During my trips to the OR Leadership Summit in September and the OR Manager Conference last month, I was struck by how many organizations were struggling with staffing and efficiency issues,” notes Gaines. “Finding ways to help their care teams reduce the burden of manual and redundant administrative tasks while supporting their nurses to work at the top-of-license was high on the agenda.” 

One of the primary ways healthcare leaders are looking to reduce that burden is virtualizing perioperative care. Our survey found that leaders see the two most important goals of virtualizing care to be freeing up staff capacity and reducing staff burnout. 

It’s evident to these leaders that increasing virtual aspects of care should not be a patchwork exercise, as it has frequently been in the past, especially true of the last 18 months when providers had to rapidly put digital tools in place without much planning.  

Healthcare leaders now see that they need digital capabilities that can help them connect and navigate patients and nurses – together – along personalized care journeys. Such capabilities can genuinely free up staff time instead of saddling staff with the management of a pile of tasks on top of their usual workload. Managing and coordinating an array of digital tools and Apps that don’t work with each other only adds difficulties.   

“After 34 years as a nurse, I have seen far too many unnecessary tasks placed into the nurse’s responsibilities,” says Gaines. “When there is no one else to do it, it often falls to the nursing team. It’s often ‘just the way it is.’ It is time to unburden nurses and free them up to do what they love. Can it work? Absolutely.” 

Healthcare leaders who take that optimism to heart must recognize that their needs now go far beyond the EHR. And many are now seeing this reality: only 5% of our survey respondents say they believe that an EHR can fully meet their future productivity and efficiency needs.  

They are beginning to see how dire the staffing challenge is compounded by the slow pace of change in healthcare. Whether you want to call current healthcare staffing problems a crisis or simply an “acute challenge,” there’s no doubt it needs repair. Healthcare leaders will need to be thoughtful to create a new digital infrastructure that accelerates productivity across the process of care, rather than in silos. 

And the nurses and other healthcare workers gathered around the Thanksgiving table this week need to know that their employers are getting them the help they need. Contact us today to learn how to use smart automation to alleviate nursing staffing shortages.