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Nursing burnout: What we know, how to help

We often hear about physician burden and how electronic health records (EHRs) increase that burden and contribute to burnout. But what about nurses who are on healthcare’s frontline?

Like physicians, nurses are caring for more patients and completing the associated documentation. We are asking them to do more with less.

It’s true that nursing burnout isn’t a new phenomenon. Health Affairs reported some time ago that about a third of nurses say they are burned out. Nurses are prone to burnout for many reasons, including:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Lack of job satisfaction
  • Feeling unappreciated by superiors or organizations
  • Feeling overworked and underpaid

More recently, organizations such as The Joint Commission (JCAHO) issued warnings and recommendations for combating nursing burnout.

How EHRs contribute to nursing burnout isn’t often discussed. It’s difficult to correlate burnout to a specific factor, but nurses often bear the brunt of poor designs in EHRs.

Nurses are often the first line of defense if someone is struggling with the system. They are on the units or in the office and spend a large amount of their time within the systems completing documentation, looking things up, and figuring out how to make the system work better.

While nurses are great at discovering workarounds and how to use the systems to get what they need, they also end up spending a lot of time away from patient care to accomplish those outcomes.

What we can do to reduce the burden on nurses

Solutions requires both a vendor and an organizational approach.

As health IT vendors, we need to understand the chaotic environment nurses work in and support them in the chaos. We can equip them with systems that offer subtle reminders of incomplete tasks, streamlined documentation, and present important, timely information intuitively to help nurses in their day-to-day tasks.

From an organizational perspective, flowsheets and nursing notes frequently become bloated to ease physician burden. It is important to review the configuration of summary views, nursing documentation and worklists often to ensure nurses are not spending time documenting things that aren’t necessary.

The ECRI Institute, an independent, nonprofit organization improving safety, quality, and cost-effectiveness of care across healthcare settings, reported that clinician burnout was third on its list of the top 10 patient safety issues for 2019. We know that nursing burnout decreases patient satisfaction and puts patients at risk. Burnout also leads to depression and suicide among nurses.

While burnout is a complex topic, we need to do our part to support nurses in their workflows and help them focus on what they truly care about and what brought them into the profession: Taking care of people.

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