Protect Hospital Workers Now for a Safer and Brighter Future of Caring
By Brent Lang
Brent Lang, MBA is chairman and CEO of Vocera of San Jose, CA.
Nurses, doctors, and other healthcare team members deserve working environments that protect their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. They also deserve equitable support and access to resources and tools to care for themselves and the patients they serve. At the heart of safety is a commitment from hospital leaders to build cultures that empower employees with essential equipment, technologies, and protocols that protect their well-being and enable them to work at the highest level of their skills.
After nearly two years, COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on exhausted nurses, doctors, and others frontline workers. The pandemic, causing needless death and elevated stress levels, has burned out many of our caregivers. Some are retiring early, some are changing professions, and others are leaving the workforce entirely. The cognitive burden that healthcare workers are carrying, and have been carrying even before the pandemic, is extremely heavy. The emotional toll is unimaginable.
We must find ways to protect and support every care team member or we risk losing more of them too soon. The future of our healthcare system depends on what we do now.
To start, we must identify the root causes of staff shortages. Let’s call out what is harming the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of healthcare workers. COVID-19, cognitive overload, and burnout are not the only things threatening their well-being.
Workplace violence, racial disparities, and bias are also contributing to the trauma healthcare workers must endure. While these threats existed well before the pandemic, the last 24 months have put a spotlight on the urgent need to protect the safety of our nation’s healthcare workforce who have risked so much to protect us.
Several health system CEOs from across the country have signed The Heart of Safety Declaration of Principles to redefine safety in healthcare and drive action for meaningful change. The three pillars of the Declaration highlighted below are helping galvanize support by other healthcare leaders, technology companies, policy makers, and more.
- Safeguard psychological and emotional safety. We must eliminate stigmas associated with seeking mental health support and advance a culture of open communication, so people feel safe to speak up and are empowered as equal and valued members of the care team. The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is an excellent start.
- Promote health justice by declaring equity and anti-racism core components of safety. Healthcare team members deserve to work in environments free from bias and discrimination. A recent UCLA study showed the proportion of Black physicians in the U.S. has increased by only four percentage points over the last 120 years. Focused policies and practices are needed to advance diversity, inclusion, and belonging in healthcare environments, which in turn enables more equitable care delivery.
- Ensure physical safety. Healthcare workers are five times more likely to suffer a workplace violence injury than staff in other industries. Zero-harm programs must be implemented to eliminate workplace violence, both physical and verbal.
Policies, protocols, and training staff how to handle a violent situation are important, but they are not enough. Hospitals and health systems need to give nurses, doctors, and other team members the ability to easily and quickly call for help when a situation escalates.
Many hospitals have equipped employees with wearable communication devices that enable emergency communication, such as a dedicated panic button, and understand simple voice commands while wearing the device under personal protective equipment (PPE).
Intelligent communication technology can also help safeguard team members from mental and emotional distress. All day long, clinicians are overloaded with complex processes, competing priorities, and interruptions by calls, texts, and alert and alarm notifications from nurse call systems, patient monitors, ventilators, and more. These communications are often not actionable, causing clinicians to feel lost and overwhelmed, spending valuable time looking for information or a colleague to help.
A unified communication and collaboration solution can reduce distractions, noise, and stress, which have increased during the pandemic. It can eliminate loud overhead paging and help organize and prioritize notifications so they only go with contextual information to the person or team who needs them and can act. Managing alerts and alarms creates a quieter healing environment, while helping reduce the cognitive burden on the healer.
There are many ways to help protect and connect team members. Together, with more collaboration and a renewed commitment to safety, we can accelerate the adoption of these solutions to safeguard our nation’s healthcare workers for a brighter future of caring.