Using Tracking Devices To Better Design Nurse Workflow

Nurses have tremendously busy workloads, with many stretched to breaking point.  Despite this intensity however, most healthcare providers are demanding more and more from their staff, so it’s understandable that attempts are under way to track the workflow of nurses.

Traditionally, this would be done via time-motion methods that involve manually observing the movements and actions of nurses either in person or via video recordings.  A recent project from the University of Missouri use tracking sensors to perform the same job.

The system was put through its paces in an intensive care unit (ICU) to monitor how nurses spend their workday.  The hope is that the findings will help to improve health care delivery, both in ICU but also other departments.

“The nurses in an ICU confront heavy daily workloads and face difficulties in managing multiple stressors from their routine work,” the team say. “They’re multitaskers, doing many things simultaneously. For example, while talking with the patient and getting vital signs, they also are charting in the electronic medical record (EMR) system. We wanted to find ways to streamline their jobs, making them more efficient.”

Keeping tracks

The system utilizes near field electromagnetic ranging (NFER) to provide an accurate measure of how much time each nurse spends on tasks per day.  The NFER system consists of a number of routers setup throughout the ICU to collect data from wearable devices attached to each nurse.  The data is then displayed on monitors showing the location and movements of each nurse as they perform their duties.

The system allows detailed tracking of the nurses in real-time whilst not compromising the privacy of the patients they’re caring for.  The system allowed staff to compile a detailed understanding of how the nurses were spending their time.

“We knew when and where nurses were during their shift and what kind of work they did in real time by using the data we collected from the NFER system. I believe it will advance our understanding of ICU nurses’ workflow,” the researchers say. “Future planned studies will cover full 24-hour periods rather than just the day shift, as well as extend the method to other ICUs.”

The hope is that these insights will allow managers to better plan the shifts of each nurse, whilst also designing wards to allow them to perform their work more effectively and efficiently.