Since the “Great Resignation” began, many healthcare organizations have been struggling to maintain a standard of care that doesn’t increase costs in a time of economic uncertainty.
Just how bad is it? The number of nurses decreased in 2021 for the first time in 18 years, while 80% of rural counties continue to not have a single psychiatrist in their borders. For those providers left, over half have reported experiencing burnout. Digital healthcare has emerged as a cost-effective solution to this growing problem. Here are three ways digital healthcare is being used to alleviate pain points associated with a shrinking healthcare workforce while increasing patient satisfaction in the process.
1: Virtual tools to save nursing time
Virtual nursing and e-sitting combats worker shortage through optimizing and supporting the work of bedside staff, freeing up resources and infusing experienced registered nurses (RNs) as virtual nurses in the care team to promote safe, quality, patient-centered care.
In December 2021, UPMC Health Plan, headquartered in Pittsburgh, Penn., partnered with UPMC Passavant Hospital on a virtual discharge pilot to help combat nurse burnout and mitigate the ongoing shortage. The pilot focused on a 30-bed inpatient unit specialized in orthopedics and urology. Because of its high throughput of patients, the unit made the perfect environment to test the effectiveness of a virtual discharge pilot.
The unit nurses use a laptop to connect patients with UPMC Health Plan nurses through the UPMC Health Plan digital healthcare platform, AnywhereCare. The virtual program also allows the patient’s family or caregiver to join the virtual discharge remotely. The health plan nurses are all trained on the discharge process, including provider preferences based on surgery type and physician.
After six months of the virtual discharge pilot, inpatient nurses saved over four days of time while patient satisfaction scores for remote nurses were a 4.9 out of 5 and patient satisfaction with online care was 4.8. UPMC Health Plan’s HCAHPS score rose from the 17th percentile before the pilot to the 94th percentile after the pilot.
2: Expanding access to psychiatrists in the hospital setting—without the cost of a full-time provider
Over 60% of all US counties do not have even one psychiatrist and getting one can be a costly investment. The cost of recruitment, training, and lost revenue when a psychiatrist leaves a healthcare organization can be more than $1 million. For healthcare organizations in rural areas, it may also be difficult, or near impossible, to recruit a psychiatrist given the ongoing provider shortage. Not having access to a network of board-certified psychiatrists can increase wait times and emergency department (ED) boarding.
Telepsychiatry fixes that problem, saving on the investment of a full-time psychiatrist, especially for ED and in-patient care. In fact, many organizations have found that it is easier to recruit a full-time psychiatrist for outpatient care for their community if they have telepsychiatry coverage in the inpatient and EDs.
Through its partnership with Amwell, CommonSpirit Health was able to reduce the average bedside response time—the time it takes a remote provider to be present at the bedside—to roughly 36 minutes. This rapid response allowed the network to keep the average case time to under 90 minutes.
3: Utilizing automated care programs for better resource allocation
Another problem facing an already shrinking care team is when the patient population is increasing. How can you find a solution that will increase efficiency and be a force multiplier while ensuring quality of care meets your standards?
Spectrum Health is the largest health system in Michigan, employing 31,000 employees across 15 hospitals and 150 ambulatory sites. With more than 200,000 adult ED visits annually, Spectrum Health knows from experience that many patients will likely need additional care in the weeks after their ED visits. Spectrum Health needed to find a tool that extended care to these patients beyond the ED.
The health system deployed Amwell’s automated ED follow-up program, which provides patients with a virtual companion that performs frequent, automated, chat-based check-ins, to help care teams catch problems and intervene sooner. After one year of using this program, Spectrum Health saw 20,000 patients enrolled, a 5% reduction in ED readmissions, and $1 million in cost savings, while maintaining a 90% patient satisfaction rate.
Although there is uncertainty as to whether workforce shortages will increase or taper off, there are proven solutions to stave off the impact. Digital healthcare helps to streamline processes and allocate resources to optimize the workflow, saving time for personnel and providing better experiences for patients.
SilverCloud Health, Chief Science Officer and Director of the e-mental health research group in the School of Psychology, Trinity College