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July 28, 2022

Facing the Nursing Shortage Head-on

Sabrina Cole, PharmD, MBA
Director, Autonomous Pharmacy Advisory Board, Omnicell

Hospitals in approximately 40 states have reported critical labor shortages, while hospitals in all 50 states anticipate being short-staffed within a few weeks. Healthcare organizations are experiencing staffing issues at almost every hospital level, particularly in nursing.

Healthcare executives predict that the effects of a shortage of hospital workers will be widespread, impacting patient care, while resulting in heavier workloads for remaining personnel, slower medication delivery, and more mistakes. And, of course, ever-increasing operational costs. Some hospitals are currently restricting services as a result of hospital labor scarcity. Nurses are by far the most affected group on the frontline.

Ballad Health has sought innovative methods to compensate for their nursing labor challenges. They are a member of the Appalachian Highlands, an integrated community health improvement organization that serves 29 counties in Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Northwest North Carolina, and Southeast Kentucky. Some of their facilities are located in remote areas. Rural health regions across the country are being affected more than ever by recruitment and retention issues, particularly in a mobile society.

Ballad Health knows their nursing teams need support and empowerment to succeed. They opened a dialogue with their nurses and learned about what makes them happy on the job and how they can improve work responsibilities. Like many nursing departments, they now use flexed or stretched ratios due to a lack of essential quality resources.

With the growing number of baby boomer nurses retiring and fewer nursing licenses for new nurses, health systems need to find new ways to fill the void. Working with regional academic institutions, Ballad Health was able to identify unlicensed flex opportunities for students across all clinical academic education application stages. Ballad Health also collaborates with institutions that offer scholarships, tuition reimbursements, and more to entice new people into nursing.

Another key opportunity to help overworked and overstressed staff is through technology. Automation doesn’t mean replacing staff. An intelligent technology infrastructure allows nurses, pharmacists, and other clinicians to focus on more essential activities. Both nurses and the pharmacy team may spend more time directly caring for patients with an integrated medication delivery system. This can mitigate some of the risks of pervasive staffing shortages. Pharmacists can better support nurses and physicians by performing activities like medication reconciliation, medication utilization management, chronic condition counseling, medication teaching, and wellness care.

For example, automating controlled substance administration protects nurses and patients alike. A closed-loop accountability system can help ensure solid procedures with ample documentation that assists the nurse. This technology saves 74 percent of the administrative time by automating data reconciliation from a single source.

By leveraging an intelligent infrastructure of automation, robotics, and data intelligence, health systems can streamline workflows to increase productivity through task automation, helping to free nurses and other clinicians from those labor-intensive manual processes.

According to Trish Tanner, Vice President, and Chief Pharmacy Officer, Ballad Health, "By transforming nurses’ and other clinicians’ jobs to be more analytical, our organization can redefine healthcare career paths, enabling them to attract and retain more talented workers."

Listen to the latest Future of Pharmacy Podcast to learn more about how an intelligent technology infrastructure can help minimize the impact of nursing shortages and drive staff satisfaction through automation and data intelligence.

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company. Assumptions made in the analysis do not reflect the position of any entity other than the author(s). These views are always subject to change, revision, and rethinking at any time and may not be held in perpetuity.