Virtual hospital improves learning of nursing students

Reimagining the nursing workload: Finding time to close the workforce gap
Sheila Zabeu -

June 12, 2023

The University of Texas at Arlington (USA) has recently inaugurated a new building for the College of Nursing that promises to offer innovative technologies to students.

In a space of approximately 14,000 square feet, technologies are offered to enrich learning, such as:

  • A smart hospital with dozens of robots capable of simulating heart attacks, strokes, breathing difficulties or childbirth in order to help nursing students prepare for the job market.
  • A classroom where nursing students and social workers can practice, for example, palliative care that is usually offered in patients’ homes.
  • A Virtual Reality lab where nursing students can take courses in mental health and clinical fundamentals, using headsets to practice communication and patient interview skills, as well as how to maintain a sterile nursing environment.
  • A simulation theatre that can be reconfigured to resemble a hospital room or any other learning need.

The building also features classrooms with large glass walls that allow passersby to follow the innovative learning taking place inside. According to the institution, this is part of an intentional effort known as Learning on Display.

“The collaborative work in this building will set the stage for future medical and social workers. We know that when nursing and social care professionals collaborate, patients have better outcomes,” highlights Tamara L. Brown, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas.

The International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning (INACSL) endorses Smart Hospital for its application of Healthcare Simulation Best Practices. The University of Texas is one of 14 new institutions on the list and now one of 26 worldwide to be endorsed for its commitment to high-quality simulation experiences for nursing students.

Beyond the hospital

A computer science researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington is developing a robotic system to help people with spinal cord injuries perform everyday tasks. The research work is involving members of the UTA Movin’ Mavs wheelchair basketball team.

Researcher Fillia Makedon has received a $218,000 grant from the Disability and Rehabilitation Engineering (DARE) programme. “Robots can play a significant role in assisting people with disabilities at home, extending independence and quality of daily life,” says Makedon. The researcher cites the example of a robot that can help individuals with motor disabilities prepare lunch.

Makedon’s goal is to design a robotic assistance system that she calls Intelligent Robotic Cooperation for Safe Assistance. These robots can recognise, assess and respond to a person’s level of cognitive fatigue during certain tasks. To perform these collaborative tasks, a multisensory system will be used that collects physiological data, such as facial expressions, while performing the tasks. The system then applies advanced machine learning/deep learning methods to automatically assess this cognitive fatigue.

More technology to save more time

A study by healthcare/our-insights/reimagining-the-nursing-workload-finding-time-to-close-the-workforce-gap">Mckinsey has revealed that healthcare organisations in the United States continue to face a shortage of nursing professionals even as the impacts of the pandemic have slowed. According to estimates, there is a shortage of 200,000 to 450,000 nurses in the country, with intensive care units being the most affected.

In this survey, nurses gave their opinions on the ideal amount of time they would like to devote to their activities. When investigating how to redesign them, the study found that it would be possible to free up to 15% of nurses’ time through technological empowerment or automation, and delegation of tasks.

Os enfermeiros forneceram um detalhamento do tempo médio gasto durante um turno típico em 69 atividades

The time savings could improve nursing workloads and the ability to handle more complex patients. In addition, this freed-up time could reduce workforce shortages by up to 300,000 nurses, according to McKinsey.

Documentation continues to be a large part of nurses’ workload, accounting for 15% of shifts. Documentation tasks that consume the most time are assessments, admissions, and charts. Nurses say that, ideally, this type of task should represent only 13% of the shift. However, without realistic and effective alternatives (e.g., nursing scribes, device integration, reduction in documentation requirements, and AI to assist with documentation), it is unlikely that this type of nurse workload can be fully alleviated.

Based on McKinsey’s assessment, 10% to 20% of 12-hour shifts are spent on activities that could be optimised through technology enablement. Investing in digital approaches to automate tasks (fully or partially), rather than simply redistributing the workload, could free up valuable time for nurses.

Tech enablement

For example, nurses spend 3% of their shifts turning and repositioning the patient. This task could be optimized through innovative ‘smart’ hospital bed technology, such as bedside exit alarms, advanced therapy for pressure redistribution, integrated scales and measurements, and remote information on patient conditions. Voice-automated devices can also help patients with control and autonomy over their rooms and preferences (e.g. blinds, television and lighting) without nursing intervention.