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Imbalanced Workloads Are Frustrating Nurses

Nursing workloads could use a fix

There may a dozen reasons why many nurses are currently frustrated with their jobs, but one reason that’s high on the list and often underappreciated is imbalanced workloads.

Let’s face it. Nobody likes it when they’re assigned a disproportionate share of difficult cases. It throws the rest of the day out of whack and it zaps your energy. Do it day-in and day-out and it’s not long before you have a serious case of burnout.

Why do these imbalances occur? Because the people who are doing the assignments have inherent biases, preferences, and even blind spots. As well-intentioned as most of them are, they don’t have the skills to juggle multiple variables like patient acuity, geography, and continuity of care in their head. It’s virtually impossible.

A spreadsheet isn’t much better either. Keeping track of all of the different variables for each patient and then matching that with the nurses on duty quickly becomes a nightmare. Just ask anybody who has done it a few times.

Is there an alternative?

Some units just ignore trying to balance workloads and give everybody the exact same number of patients, regardless of their acuity.

That may be easier, but it doesn’t really solve the problem. In fact, it guarantees that at some point some or many of the nurses are going to experience a severe workload because of the luck of the draw.

Some say patient acuity scoring has helped.

It’s true that this helps alerts staff as to which patients are sicker than others.

But it’s still not ideal.

There’s still the challenge of making sure the workload is equitably distributed. Just because you know which patients are sicker doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to balance the load. For example, what if turns out that most of the sicker patients are in one area of the unit? You know who they are, but because you have geography-based assignments, that one nurse gets them all. Not fair, but that’s how most nursing units work.

That’s because up until now, there’s been no real way to effectively distribute for acuity AND balance workloads. In addition, there’s also been no real way to account for continuity as well, even though there’s considerable evidence to demonstrate that continuity of care is invaluable in improving outcomes.

That sad fact is – the manual patient assignment process administered by most nurses today is not only inefficient and ineffective in promoting care, but it may also be harming patients as it forces nurses to juggle challenging assignments.

The only real viable solution is to automate the patient assignment process.

That way, much of the guesswork is taken out of the equation. Instead, the algorithms to the “heavy lifting.” That is, the software intelligently weighs any number of different variables that affect care, such as acuity, geography and continuity of care, looks at the best combination based on a set of rules and criteria, and then quickly comes up with a match between the patients and the nurses.

In other words, the software looks at how many patients there are, how many have high, medium or low acuity, where they’re located, whether or not they’ve been seen before by one of the nurses, and then does the math quickly and effortlessly.

No more guesswork. No more human bias or preferences. The software takes the manual process and exponentially improves its effectiveness and efficiency.

Anybody who is responsible for the assignments can appreciate the value of such an approach.

No more headaches trying to juggle nurses, sick patients and multiple variables.

No worrying about whether or not they’ve unintentionally offended someone because of an imbalanced workload.

No more all of that extra time spent trying desperately to get it right and get it to work.

That’s the beauty of software.

It can’t hold a person’s hand and comfort them when they come out of surgery.

It can’t look at someone’s skin color and intuitively tell there’s something wrong (although that may be coming soon).

But it can do complex math computations incredibly well, better than humans, in fact, and that’s really worth something.

If it can also alleviate some of the frustration that leads to burnout, then it’s even more valued.

And if it can improve care because it can incorporate such things as continuity of care and better work environments – now we’ve got something.

Well, that something is here and it’s called ASSIGN for Nurses.

Want to check it out? Start here.