There is a critical shortage of clinical and non-clinical medical staff globally. A particular danger to healthcare stability is the shortage of nurses, which continues to intensify. Ontario alone projects a shortage of 33,000 nurses and personal support workers by 2028. We are in the midst of a global health emergency, and technology can help.

One frequently mentioned reason for the nursing shortage is burnout — a problem that feeds itself. When exasperated nurses leave their positions, it puts an increasing burden on the remaining nurses. Those who remain experience even greater feelings of overload and other emotional and physical burnout symptoms, which eventually leads to further staff attrition.

It is a vicious cycle that can put the health of an entire population at risk due to a lack of qualified healthcare delivery staff.

Solving for burnout requires systemic changes

To properly understand and address nurse burnout, we must remember that it is a behavioral health issue caused by a broken system. Traditional evidence-based approaches to wellness, such as therapy, medications, and even applications that enable mood and sleep management, can help. Still, broader change is needed for sustained results.

Change that supports staff in the ecosystems they function in daily can contribute to improvements in mental health, job satisfaction, and a sense of value and worth. This is called system change, and the most prevalent system for a nurse is their clinical work environment. The clinical work environment can trigger stress, anxiety, and fear leading to symptoms of burnout. Many healthcare organizations are beginning to focus on making the necessary changes to the clinical work environment to transition the workplace to a place of wellness for employees.

Unfortunately, most medical facilities still function on antiquated systems and are ill-equipped to make effective changes needed for true workplace transformation.

Most facilities were not prepared to handle the medical needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, let alone address the burden it put on nurses. Already challenged with work-life balance issues, medical workers experienced additional trauma and fear as they worried about exposures that could impact their own health and the health of their families. Many isolated from their families post-shift to ensure the safety of loved ones at home. This further separated them from their families and added to anxiety levels and emotional toll.

Facilitating healthy change

Healthcare is a segment that has traditionally been slow to adopt digital capabilities. There are several reasons for this, one being the misconception that technology has not always provided the privacy and security needed to protect sensitive patient information — but that has changed.

Today, it is recognized that technology can be easily adopted, assist with reducing clinician work, and keep sensitive information protected and secure.

There are two main steps every healthcare organization needs to take when determining how to incorporate technology to address employee burnout:

1. Address attrition by making wellness a top priority corporate-wide. Attrition and wellness are the top two issues causing the nursing shortage, and it is not just an HR issue. A work environment that contributes to staff wellness is necessary moving forward — one that improves an individual’s life and allows them to be at their best when delivering patient care.

When planning for workplace transformation, prioritize ways to improve engagement, share of voice, and equity in employee experience. Technologies such as Webex Collaboration tools enable hybrid work, which allows nurses to have more choices in creating their own version of work-life balance. Webex Instant Connect, the Electronic Health Records (EHR) integrated telehealth system, allows nurses to securely conduct meetings, consultations, and training from any location, including their home.

Hospitals can begin offering work-from-home options for certain clinical roles. Even bedside nurses are being augmented with virtual nurse teammates who can help with intake, discharge, and daily requests from admitted patients that don’t require an in-person nurse. This frees the bedside nurses to do more of the patient-facing work they were trained for. The patient can experience a highly responsive nurse team during their stay, leading to better outcomes in and out of the hospital.

2. Evaluate digital potential across all workflows. Newer technologies can improve efficiencies and the experience for both patients and healthcare workers. Look at every workflow in the organization with an eye toward modernization. How do patients get emergency care? How do they register? How are they prioritized? How can they reach experts when they need them? Can some workflows include self-service steps, moving work from staff to patients and their care system? Next, look at where a digital touchpoint might improve a system. For example, could virtual emergency teams take the stress off on-premise emergency staff? Data suggests that Nearly 40% of emergency department (ED) visits are for non-urgent reasons. If patients have information that an ED is overwhelmed, those with non-urgent needs might wait or find a different facility. Patients who do not know if their need is an emergency could click or call first to receive some assistance virtually in determining the best next step for their symptoms, which may include a Webex Instant Connect virtual visit with a doctor or nurse.

Webex Instant Connect for telehealth can be inserted into various workflows to enable fast and flexible access to resources on demand, improving patient experience and clinical outcomes while scaling limited staff resources.

These technologies and the new workflows they enable can help relieve the stress and pressure on nurses and other healthcare workers while providing a better, more convenient experience for patients.

At Cisco, we can assist by simplifying workflows and easing unnecessary burdens put on healthcare workers. Technologies like Webex Instant Connect can facilitate secure and easy-to-use medical consultations and improve the healthcare experience for both patients and nurses.

If you want to learn more, explore the healthcare portfolio explorer and let us know how we can help you improve healthcare worker retention through technology.


Kathryn Howe

Director, Healthcare Digital Transformation, Cisco Americas

Customer Value Acceleration/Business Transformation