One of my most memorable experiences was more than a decade ago while working for a level one trauma center on the East Coast. I was sitting in a hospital break room during one of my breaks as an inventory coordinator when a nurse walked in. I simply asked how her day was going, and she fell into the chair next to me crying.
Surprised by her reaction, I asked, “What’s going on?” She replied, “I just lost my third patient today.”
The impact of her personal experience stuck with me. Even now, looking back, I can’t help but think how difficult a day it must have been for her. Until that moment, my only experience with nursing had been as a patient.
Seriously injured while serving on active duty it was a nurse who saw me first, and it was a nurse who discharged me from the hospital. It was a nurse who was responsible for all of my care. Like an air traffic controller, it was a nurse who coordinated my care as well as the care of many others.
What I didn’t know at the time, but more than a decade later I would learn: the most overwhelming parts of nursing are the constant system failures. More than 30 percent of nursing time is spent hunting, fetching and clarifying work not patient care. This is not the cause of any one person or processes patient care has just evolved this way over time.
Fast forward more than decade and those experiences of stress and disappointment still exist for nurses. The reality here is that health care organizations/hospitals (HCOs) function in a way that requires nurses to focus more of their limited time and attention diagnosing systems needs rather than focusing on patients care. Nurses scrambling for linen, supplies, equipment or waiting to clarify a medication prescription are just a few examples. It’s all the unrelated system needs and its failures, not patient care, that adds real cost.
Overburdened, a single nurse could be caring for as many as five to six patients struggling in a system that’s failing him/her. In recent years, the cost of health care has gotten a great deal of attention and with good reason. Between 2000 and 2007 health care spending grew at nearly six percent per year, a much steadier growth rate than inflation or wage growth.