With a total of 180 pediatric deaths reported to the CDC between October 2017 and May 2018 as a result of influenza, many are expecting the worst as we head into another flu season.
The strain put on medical professionals — especially nurses — is one of the biggest concerns surrounding this season’s anticipated outbreak, which experts predict will bring out lower-than-normal efficacy rates in the vaccine. Leading up to and all throughout flu season, nurses work relentlessly to administer vaccines and treat symptoms of the illness, all while trying to avoid contracting it themselves. And with nurse burnout and understaffing already on the rise, tension could reach an all-time high.
With this in mind, healthcare providers must be prepared to reduce the additional stress put on nurses or risk losing some of their most valuable team members. Healthcare providers can turn to three strategies in supporting nurses during this year’s busy flu season.
- Refresh your flu season training. Outlooks for the severity of the upcoming flu season are always communicated to both medical professionals and the public, but how does training shift with those changing, year-to-year forecasts? Rather than relying on the same repetitive motions for staving off the virus, training should cover new considerations and care tactics that nurses should keep in mind based on the developing patterns of infection. For example, some years annual flu shot doesn’t strongly immunize against the specific strain that winds up making the rounds. Nurses should be reminded each year of how to shift their care tactics to respond to the changing nature of the virus. Offering ongoing digital resources on these topics — such as videos, quizzes, and the latest relevant medical journal articles — is a great way to help nurses stay on top what they need to know during an extremely busy time.
- Elevate communication efforts. Much of leadership communication in the healthcare field is top-down, when it should instead be two-way. The need for a reciprocal dialogue becomes even more amplified during flu season, when the battle against the seasonal virus is very much day-to-day. Rather than simply receive news from the top about the latest flu infection numbers and planned response to the spread of the virus, nursing leads need to be able to collaborate with organizational leaders and give their take on what tactics have and haven’t been working for this year’s strain. In such a fast-paced setting, coordinating these kinds of communication efforts requires a dedicated workplace platform that allows real-time connection, rather than just an ad-hoc touch-base plan.
- Be your nurses’ biggest cheerleaders. Nurse burnout is a documented problem within the healthcare industry, and leaders are still defining and refining their approach to preventing it. Flu season is an especially vulnerable time for nurses and their on-the-job morale. High patient counts and the high probability of contracting the virus itself run many nurses ragged, often leaving them exhausted and underappreciated. But praise and appreciation from organization leaders and managers can be difficult to deliver when health organization administrators aren’t on the front lines the way nurses are. Tapping into a digital workplace platform allows managers to help engage nurses through badges and direct communication, making it easier to recognize nurses’ great work with purpose. This increases the visibility of nurses’ accomplishments in real time.
Nurses are at the core of every flu season action plan, and thus must be treated like the true assets they are. An aggressive flu season will strain nurses, leading to burnout and understaffing, if healthcare providers don’t take proactive steps to prevent it. That means prioritizing training, two-way dialogue, and moral — because patient lives depend on it.