As the chief nursing officer at Vocera, I have the opportunity and privilege to speak with nurses all over the world.
While it may sound cliché, the stories I have heard from the frontlines are nothing short of remarkable. Despite fears and fatigue, they are dedicated to supporting their patients and colleagues. Against the odds, with more questions than answers about COVID-19, their commitment to their mission is relentless. As a nurse for more than 30 years, I have never been prouder of my profession or the dedicated people in it.
Collaborating, Not Competing
Several conversations I had during the peak of the virus with healthcare leaders in New York were truly inspiring. Specifically, the conversations I had with chief nursing officers at three different hospitals – one in Manhattan, one on Long Island and one in upstate New York. In the midst of so much tragedy, they were able to see the strength of humanity and cultivate some positive changes because of the situation.
The pandemic, they explained, broke down the walls of competition between hospitals. Healthcare is a business, and like any other business, organizations strive to outdo competitors. But during the crisis, besting each other was no longer important. What was important was doing the right thing for the greater good. In the case of these three hospitals it meant moving the sickest patients to where the greatest resources were and moving other patients where there was more capacity. There also were more willingness to share supplies. The healthcare “system” truly worked as a system.
Together, as colleagues not competitors, they continue working to solve various challenges at each location, including preserving supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE). Even more impressive is how they are sharing ideas on how to generate revenue because so many elective surgeries were canceled. The collective creativity and moral support have been remarkable.
Leveraging Hands-free Communication
In addition to volunteering people and supplies, healthcare leaders have also been sharing best practices to ensure care teams feel supported and are safe. Among these best practices is hands-free, voice-controlled communication. The realities of COVID-19 and PPE make it difficult and unsafe to use hand-held devices. Going hands-free eliminates the need to leave a patient’s isolation room and remove PPE just to ask a simple question, get supplies, or receive an update from care team members.
It also means nurses transferring from other departments or hospitals to help with the surge do not have to learn the names of their new colleagues. During the coronavirus crisis, nurses and doctors from different departments were being transferred to COVID-19 floors, and clinicians from other parts of the state and country were being deployed to help in hospitals where they did not routinely work. Having a familiar communication system in these unfamiliar settings can provide some peace of mind and confidence during difficult situations. With an intelligent voice-controlled communication system, a volunteer or displaced clinician does not need to worry about remembering names or extensions. They can simply say the role of the person or group they need to contact, like “call respiratory therapist” or “call COVID team.” Anything we can do to make the lives of care teams easier we must do. Standardizing communication across hospitals and health systems would go a long way to simplifying clinical workflows and speeding time to treatment, especially during patient surges.
Protecting the Well-being of the Frontlines
Safeguarding the mental, emotional and physical well-being of healthcare workers is critical. Before the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare workers faced several challenges that caused cognitive overload, exhaustion, stress, and safety risks. Fear of getting COVID-19 or passing it along to family members has added even more anxiety.
As long as COVID-19 remains a public health risk, PPE is a must-have for healthcare workers. By making hands-free communication devices worn under PPE a standard, hospitals can better safeguard their frontlines from infection. Communication technology can also protect the psychological well-being of staff.
Nothing has brought the challenges of multitasking in a patient-care environment into focus like COVID-19. The constant need to respond in the moment, inability to plan and strategize, impedes many clinicians’ ability to sustain attention. As multiple demands occur or change and discreet data points are exchanged in this high-stress, fast-paced environment, a person’s working memory reaches its limits. It is in this space of burdened memory that tasks are forgotten, and mistakes are made. Vocera technology can carry the burden of memory for clinicians by providing contextual, just-in-time information.
We must recognize and celebrate nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers for their tireless work. We must also give them the tools and resources they need and deserve to do their jobs safely. Now more than ever, we must also find and implement ways to reduce their cognitive burden and support their capacity to care.
Rhonda Collins, DNP, RN, FAAN, is the Chief Nursing Officer at Vocera, where she works closely with nurses, physicians, IT professionals and other hospital leaders around the world to improve the lives of patients, families and care teams by simplifying workflows and improving clinical communication. A nurse for more than 30 years, Dr. Collins is a co-founder of the American Nurse Project dedicated to elevating the voices of nurses across the country through interviews, an award winning book, and a feature length documentary.