Nursing execs dish on the digital health tools they've found most useful during the pandemic

On International Nurses Day, RNs from around the country say telehealth, mobile apps and, yes, electronic health records have been integral to providing seamless patient care at their organizations.

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In a recent study, researchers associated more favorable electronic health record usability scores with lower odds of burnout among nurses.   

Unfortunately, that study also found that nurses scored their EHR usability at an F – which seems to bode ill for workplace satisfaction in an already stressful environment.  

Still, it's not all bad news: Nursing executives from hospitals around the country told Healthcare IT News that they've come to rely on a large range of digital health tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, they say, they'll continue to use some of that software in a post-pandemic world.  

Multiple execs pointed to telehealth as a major game-changer for patient care.  

"Having the ability to safely connect and communicate enabled clinic visits to continue despite the pandemic," said Ellen Hansen, chief nursing and clinical services officer at Children’s of Mississippi, part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

"Telehealth is severely underutilized in many parts of the world, as culture and habits are difficult to change," Hansen added. "Providers prefer to see patients in person; however, the ability of telehealth to reach people with little to no access to healthcare is critical, never more so than in a pandemic."  

Hansen noted that, although telehealth use has diminished in some services to pre-COVID-19 levels, "It would be great to see more funding and emphasis on incorporation of telehealth into all possible practices."

Similarly, Gwendolyn Oglesby-Odom, chief nursing officer at Advocate Aurora Health in Chicago, pointed to Zoom specifically as an invaluable COVID-19-era solution.  

"We use Zoom within our Epic Medical Record System to perform telehealth visits with our patients," Gwendolyn Oglesby-Odom explained. "Zoom has also allowed patients on our COVID-19 unit to connect with family members who are unable to visit them.

"Zoom has been a game changer for us in the wake of the pandemic," she added.  

Despite the uneven reputation of EHRs, some execs pointed to their vendors as being particularly helpful.  

"In the midst of the pandemic, Cerner created a customized COVID-19 power plan, which is an order set that conveniently has all of the orders necessary to care for a COVID-19 patient," said Lorenzo Suter, CEO at Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Dupont Hospital. He also chairs the IU Fort Wayne Nursing Advisory Board.   

"This has not only saved the providers time in having to search for individual orders, but it has also allowed providers to be consistent in providing all COVID-19 patients with comprehensive and high-quality care," Suter continued.

At the Cleveland Clinic, providers relied on a wide range of digital solutions, explained Nelita Iuppa, associate chief nursing officer for informatics.  

Like the other executives, Iuppa mentioned telehealth as an integral part of patient care.  

"We introduced virtual visits to our inpatient areas in order to connect clinicians and patients, as well as patients with their families," she said.  

"Patients were able to say good night to their children, visit with loved ones and complete consult visits with specialists all from their hospital room. Caregiver teams also utilized these tools to complete virtual team rounds in critical care units during this time," she explained.

This wasn't limited to in-hospital visits, either.   

"In our outpatient areas virtual visit volumes increased tenfold as we reached out to our patients in the community who were hesitant about traveling into our facilities for their care. Our nurses offered reassurance, technical assistance and encouragement that really fostered the adoption for these types of appointments," she said.

The clinic also relied on mobile apps to keep patients and staff as safe as possible.   

"Cleveland Clinic developed several different screening applications," said Iuppa. "One for visitors and one for our caregivers to run through a list of symptoms to validate they were feeling healthy prior to coming into work that day.  

"As we started to reopen limited visitation to our hospitals, the nurses were critical in documenting the primary visitor in the electronic medical record that could instantaneously be cross checked at the front entrances to verify visitor name and the date and time of these events," she explained.  

In addition, Iuppa noted that the system used digital tools to give nurses the chance to continue professional development even at a time of upheaval.

"We offered our first-ever completely virtual nursing conference events during COVID-19 with over 1,000 nurse participants around the world, and we also offered remote learning for new hire onboarding and for nurses who were floating to unfamiliar locations to assist with staffing and patient care," she said.

"Many nurses were also able to stay connected using virtual huddles and meeting tools and keep our enterprise nursing committees and workgroups engaged and productive during this time," she added.

"We have been very fortunate to partner with our IT colleagues and other caregiver disciplines across our enterprise to utilize really fantastic digital solutions during the pandemic," said Iuppa.


Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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