Automated Nurse Cross-Training Needs to Be in Place Before the Next Pandemic

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

This blog post by Trisha Coady, Senior Vice President Clinical Solutions, HealthStream, is written in conjunction with HealthStream’s participation in the National Healthcare CNO Summit Fall 2020, which occurs September 21-22, 2020, in Chicago.

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the demand for nurse cross-training has risen dramatically. In addition to the increased care demands where COVID-19 infections are spreading, up to 20 percent of healthcare workers are become infected, requiring their quarantine. Hospitals are likely to become overwhelmed, and organizations need to quickly identify which of their nurses can most easily be cross-trained and then determine how much training was necessary. Although Chief Nursing Officers have always considered the ongoing development of frontline staff as a critical industry endeavor, many found it a challenge to secure the necessary resources and ensure they were equipped to practice at their full potential.

The Impact of a Public Health Emergency

When a public health emergency occurs that disrupts nearly all aspects of the healthcare delivery system, most organizations will prioritize the needs of those who deliver care. Think about it in terms of how the risk or reward grows the closer you get to the patient. Given the low cost of deployment and potential for widespread return there is definitely an opportunity to rethink how we develop nurses. 

The Challenge of Ensuring Frontline Staff Is Prepared for a Pandemic

Before COVID-19 emerged as a serious problem, I had already spoken to multiple CNOs who had identified the tremendous opportunity to provide broader and more sustainable outcome improvement across various areas in healthcare. It was apparent this would require an individualized and ongoing approach to competency development, as well as a focus on critical thinking to ensure knowledge and skills were being applied more consistently into practice. It is unfortunate that under present circumstances, many are engaged in immediate initiatives whose ability to generate meaningful improvement will dissipate over time, presenting a challenge to organizations already operating with limited margins.

With Resource Constraints How Do We Make a Cross-Training Initiative Work?

A primary obstacle to success is determining how this could be operationalized given the degree to which time and other resources are limited commodities in healthcare. Unlike most other industries, the average span of control in healthcare is 40 for a typical nurse manager, as opposed to 10. More than any other industry, healthcare must begin leveraging innovative technologies and automation.  Any significant healthcare issue like COVID-19 faces similar challenges and requires a similar, scalable approach.  

Looking to Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a Solution

The genesis of any effective solution typically arises from a community of like-minded people with shared experiences and intelligence. They commonly have a more complete awareness of the problem being solved, which should always come before any technology is considered. Many leaders did not want to use blanket education or transactional learning methods that often fail to inspire learner engagement. The ideal solution also needed to create an intelligent matchmaking system between nurses and content that also appreciated the unique workflows within complex healthcare organizations. 

Focused on Nursing Workforce Development

HealthStream has been working for multiple years to help nursing and healthcare solve some of its workforce development and training challenges. As part of that effort we acquired two highly regarded nurse-led assessment firms that had a combined 40 years of data and experience. To complement them, our teams have developed a proprietary clinical taxonomy that triangulates student information, assessment outcomes, and development content to create individualized learning paths. For the essential critical thinking component of development, we felt strongly this could not be achieved through multiple choice and instead should replicate real-life. That is why we have leveraged artificial intelligence and natural language processing, engaging nurses in scenarios through a chat interface. 

We’ve created a system allowing leaders and educators to quickly identify their top performers, as well as those who require additional support through individual and aggregate assessment results. Effectively, we have created an intelligent system that identifies nurses’ competency gaps and recommends personalized development plans at scale. Given the ability to approach competency development as a continuous process, this allows organizations to be in a constant state of readiness with their frontline staff. 

COVID-19 Emphasizes the Primacy of Nursing Care

While many still unknown things in healthcare may change as a result of COVID-19, one thing will stay the same—nurses have been and will always be at the bedside 24-7 providing care. To be in a constant state of readiness, like we are now experiencing, and ensure all nurses are equally competent, Chief Nursing Officers will need to leverage technologies that can individualize competency plans at scale. My hope is that we will see greater investment in developing next-level people with systems that appreciate the complexities of our healthcare environment.

About the National Healthcare CNO Summit Fall 2020

The 22nd National Healthcare CNO Summit is the premium forum bringing senior level nursing executives and solution providers together. The Summit offers an intimate environment for a focused discussion of key new drivers shaping the healthcare industry. Taking place at The Intercontinental, Chicago, Illinois, September 21-22, the Summit includes presentations on examining COVID-19 response, strengthening the workforce in a nursing shortage era, new technologies that impact healthcare, and understanding what quality healthcare means.

As our flagship nursing workforce development solution, HealthStream’s jane™ is The World’s First Digital Mentor for Nurses. JaneTM harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to create a system that personalizes competency development at scale, quickly identifies risk and opportunity, and improves quality outcomes by focusing on critical thinking. Leveraging decades of research and with over 4 million assessments completed, JaneTM was designed to power lifelong, professional growth of clinical professionals. JaneTM is an important component of HealthStream’s suite of clinical development solutions.