Devices & Technology

New Technology Solutions Helping Aging Nurses Stay at the Bedside

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By Christina Orlovsky Page, contributor 

April 18, 2013 - As the population of baby boomers ages, so does the nursing workforce. In fact, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the current median age of a nurse is 46, with the largest group in their 50s. For aging nurses in an on-your-feet profession, that figure amounts to a lot of weary legs, sore backs and tired eyes in need of a reprieve.

In 2006, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) issued a white paper with recommendations for retaining experienced nurses in the hospital setting. “Wisdom at Work: The Importance of the Older and Experienced Nurse in the Workplace” suggested ergonomic initiatives, creative staffing solutions and leadership development to keep older nurses engaged. The initiative funded 13 programs at hospitals across the country, including some that changed ergonomic design, implemented new clinical technology solutions and shifted experienced ICU nurses to work in a virtual monitoring environment.

Although the final initiative determined that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to keeping older nurses at the bedside, RWJF’s research brought to light the need for creative efforts and a culture shift across the nursing profession. 

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also serves as a valuable resource for health care facilities looking to establish a safe work environment for all workers by focusing on ergonomics, defined as “the science of fitting the job to the worker.” According to OSHA, “when there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical activity of the worker, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can result.” The organization’s Hospital eTool focuses on a variety of health care-wide hazards--particularly patient lifting and transport--and offers guidelines to prevent MSDs.

In addition to organizational recommendations and guidelines, new devices, technology and workplace design solutions have evolved to help older nurses remain at the bedside with decreased risk of injury, exhaustion and burnout.

Wireless communications
The average nurse can walk upwards of four miles each day, from the bedside to the nurses’ station, to the medication room and back to the bedside. According to a report by the California Healthcare Foundation, “Equipped for Efficiency: Improving Nursing Care through Technology,” one study found that “it takes 58 minutes each day for individual nurses to walk to the nurses’ station to answer the telephone.”

Thanks to the implementation of a variety of different wireless tools, hospitals have been able to reduce the amount of unnecessary back-and-forth walking a nurse does on a daily basis. The report highlights voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technologies including lightweight wearable communication badges that offer hands-free communication capabilities at the point of care.

Today, wireless communication is almost synonymous with the smartphone. Voalté, a Sarasota, Florida-based health care communications company, took that concept and ran with it, first equipping the iPhone with what it calls the three core pillars of hospital communication: voice, alarms and text. The result is Voalté One, which includes all the communication tools a nurse would need, right in her scrub pocket. In 2012, the company worked with Samsung to create a version of the product for the android-based phones, as well.

Additional wireless communication tools, like the iPad or other tablet, help nurses reduce walking from a computer station to the bedside or from wheeling a computer cart into a room by serving as lightweight, portable documentation tools. A number of apps, including ZoomContacts and BigFont, are available to increase font size on portable communication devices and help ease the strain on tired eyes.

Finally, with the focus on safe patient transport, is the future of heavy lifting in the hands of a robo-nurse? If researchers in Japan have anything to say about it, RIBA is the answer. The country’s Institute of Physical and Chemical Research and Tokai Rubber Industries created the Robot for Interactive Body Assistance (RIBA) in 2009, as well as an upgraded RIBA II, designed to lift patients off hospital beds and into wheelchairs. When RIBA II expands into the U.S. market in the next few years, nurses who grew up with “The Jetsons” cartoon may get to see their own version of Rosie the Robot, roaming the halls to lend assistance and help keep them from getting injured at the bedside. 

Related articles:
Creating a Safer Workplace for Nurses
Manufacturers Keeping Nurses Safe on the Job 


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