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Mobile training for healthcare employees: a chance to counter the nursing shortage

Written by Kevin Liew on 06 Apr 2017
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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 the demand for nursing jobs will raise by 19%. Both the US and global markets have been experiencing the shortage of nurses for almost a half a century now: The New Yorker says that the first editorial mentioning deficit in nurses dates back to 1965. In 2000, according to the Bureau of Health Professions, the supply was 110,800 short of nurses compared to the demand, accounting for a 6% shortage.

With the generation of baby boomers retiring, about 80% of the 69 million of the US senior citizens will need regular professional assistance by 2030, the HSR research says, and even more by 2050. Today, however, the industry talks about a new wave of the nursing shortage connected with the decreasing number not only of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practicing/vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) on the whole, but those who are sufficiently educated and experienced in particular. In 2015, the Healthcare Recruiting Trends Survey revealed that 43% of HR professionals experience difficulty in finding professional medical staff.

This article delves into the problem of nurse training and suggests mobile solutions that can support the process.

Gaps and challenges of nurse training

To ensure patients’ safety, the requirements for nursing practice are reasonably getting stricter. Nurses are supposed to have at least an Associate degree in nursing (ADN) to legally do their work. Licenses are issued by each state’s Board of Nursing and their requirements differ, but all expect candidates to pass a National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) or a National Council Licensure Examination for Practicing Nurses (NCLEX-PN) exam to renew the license.

Meanwhile, Elsevier’s Nursing & Health Professions (NHP) group expert Fran Phillips states that “the average age of a nurse educator is 56.” These educators are the only force that can bring up the new generation of nurses, but they didn’t use more than 80% of the technologies that healthcare uses now. This, as Phillips logically concludes, creates a so-called ‘education gap’.

‘Experience gap’ is also a thing, as it transpires from the article The U.S. is running out of nurses. Its author, Rebecca Grant, points out that workplaces are very reluctant to hire from the new generation of nurses specifically due to their inexperience. Yet, in some states, young nurses aren’t even provided enough opportunities to get practical training during their studying.

Hence, while experienced nurses have to suspend retirement, nursing graduates’ skills and newly gained knowledge go rusty.

Why existing IT solutions don’t work as they should

Some universities, such as Georgetown School of Nursing and Health Studies, provide a wide range of online courses for nurses with a Bachelor’s degree or above. With only 1-2 weeks of intensive on-campus training per semester included, these online programs allow nursing graduates to deepen their knowledge and keep it fresh while working or searching for employment. Still, although nurse pay can later compensate any student loan, many nurses reasonably avoid this option mainly for financial reasons.

The learning portal Alison offers free and online certified studies in various nursing specializations, from Communication and Transcultural Factors to Physical Examination. All courses have very positive reviews from practicing nurses themselves, who admit the information to be very useful and refreshing. However, full-time LVN/LPNs as well as RNs who take care of outpatients have a rather hectic working schedule that doesn’t leave much time for studies at a computer.

Nurses could benefit significantly if all the course theory were combined with practice. This way, fresh-out graduates could start turning their knowledge into a habit. At the same time, a generation of nurses who aren’t familiar with intricate technologies could get a hang of them by fearlessly trying them out with the help of a guide or a manual.

How a mobile app can help

Helping nurses refresh their knowledge and gain practical skills, mobile functionality can become an effective corporate learning tool or a feature in a universal employee app which we described at length in this article letting medical facilities train their newly employed staff and foster their professional growth. Divided into categories that coincide with the medical facility’s departments, the app’s learning content can address various specifics from mental health to oncology, as well as various types of learning – from theoretical to practical.

Tips and checklists

Theoretical materials in the form of short and condensed tips can help nurses refresh their knowledge of specific cases. For instance, RNs may not have helpless patients every day, but they should know how to measure weight and height of such a patient anyway, should he or she appear. With this app’s features, nurses can go through the guidelines and revive the key points in their memory.

In a similar manner, the app can suggest information on products and their nutrients for nurses responsible for diets, specific medicine prescription, or a checklist for procedures.

Tests and self-check videos

Mock exams can be helpful for those nurses who have to refresh the entire theoretical material in order to renew their license. Compliant with the effective mobile learning principles, tests will be short and sorted by categories. In case a user wants to revise the theory before a test, they will be linked to the theory section of the same mobile app or their medical facility’s eLearning portal.

Unlike static presentation slides, a mobile app can offer interactive manuals and tests on performing a medical procedure. Nurses who work with emergency cases can use the app to practice first aid. For example, the app can ask to select the parts of the body that should be examined in case of specific poisoning. Correct parts will be highlighted with green, and incorrect ones with red.

To check practical skills, a mobile app can store short videos of some medical procedures performed. A nurse will be offered to watch a video and mark it as correct or containing a deliberate mistake. Mistakes can be even minor, to ensure the nurse knows every precise detail.

Simulators

A mobile app can simulate software of any healthcare equipment for nurses to get used to virtually operating them. The simulator can feature a list of tasks to perform and 2 options of training. If a nurse is only getting acquainted with the software, they can choose a complete guidance, hence learning how to perform a task step-by-step. Alternatively, they can only see the result they need to achieve and do all the steps to get to it on their own.

For practicing Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), mobile apps can be developed together with mannequins, like those used for CPR training. Connected to the sensors in a mannequin, a mobile app can measure the pressure, amount and timing of pushes and show what should be improved.

Augmented practice

A lot of skills need practice that would be as close to life as possible. Exactly these skills create the largest challenge for nurses in training, shutting them off from the nurses with years of real-life experience. A mobile app can’t substitute such experience, but can enable training of many procedures while guaranteeing faultless results.

Augmented Reality features already help in learning human anatomy (Anatomy 4D) and performing orthopedic surgeries (DASH). Used by nurses in training, mobile apps with AR features can, for instance, capture a wounded patient’s body and show how to put a bandage, on the display. A nurse then can follow the instructions viewed on the screen and gain practical knowledge, while avoiding any possible mistake.     

Summary

The US healthcare job market sees a significant shortage in nursing staff, partially caused by insufficient training with ‘educational’ and ‘experience’ gaps. Mobile software can address the challenge by supporting RNs and LVNs/LPNs in their everyday practice or preparation for NCLEX. Simulators of medical equipment and software systems, tips and interactive manuals, as well as virtual practice and mock exams – all this can be a part of a mobile training app for nurses.

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