Dec 21 2022

The Impact of Travel Nursing on Healthcare Cybersecurity

The use of travel nurses by healthcare organizations is still high. Without proper security protocols in place, health IT environments are vulnerable to cyberthreats.

Travel nurses were in high demand early in the pandemic, with some making upward of $5,000 a week. While demand has decreased since April 2020, nurse shortages mean that many healthcare organizations are still relying on travel nurses to fill staffing gaps.

Many nurses are burned out from the pandemic and now the “tripledemic.” Rather than introduce another person into patient rooms during the pandemic, nurses were asked to do more, including collecting patient information and delivering meals. Many staff nurses saw travel nurses making more money while working in the same hospital, adding frustration on top of burnout. These factors are causing some nurses to retire, move from hospitals to ambulatory or outpatient care roles, or leave the healthcare industry altogether, exacerbating the ongoing nurse shortages.

Travel nurses are offered more money to go to dense markets in Florida, California and the Northeast, making it difficult for health systems in less populated areas to compete. While many healthcare organizations are reducing their use of travel nurses, the hidden impact is a reduction in services offered. Some health systems are limiting the capacity of their operating rooms and med-surg floors because they don’t have enough nurses to staff patient beds. Hospitals are closing wings, and multihospital systems are scaling back labor and delivery services from all to half of their hospitals.

With the use of travel nurses expected to remain steady amid the ongoing nurse shortages, it’s important that healthcare organizations have proper device management and security protocols in place to protect their IT environments from cyberthreats while optimizing new workflows.

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How Travel Nurses Affect a Health IT Environment’s Security

Travel nurses are entering new hospital IT environments where they are unfamiliar with an organization’s technologies and systems, such as the electronic health record, as well as its IT protocols. Because travel nursing positions are temporary, many people in those roles are less invested in the organization and its security. At the same time, organizations that are onboarding a large number of travel nurses may be more likely to cut corners on IT training and security to get people working immediately.

Travel nurses will likely need a device provided by the healthcare organization in addition to access to apps and programs that include patient data. If an organization doesn’t have a dedicated nurse rotation technology program, travel nurses are probably using technology intended for permanent employees and being added to the IT environment as if they’re full time. If travel nurses aren’t familiarized with the organization’s security and device policies, their devices are more susceptible to phishing and other cyberattacks. Some travel nurses may even be using borrowed credentials to quickly access needed apps, which increases an organization’s security vulnerability.

EXPLORE: 7 email security strategies to keep patient data safe from evolving cyberattacks.

How to Maintain Healthcare Security Postures with Travel Nurses

To protect their IT environments, healthcare organizations need to design device programs with travel nurses in mind. During holidays or other times of the year when there’s a higher need for travel nurses, hospitals can ramp up the program to deploy technology quickly and securely. However, there’s a cost to these programs, and not all organizations have the budget for layered fleet management to accommodate visiting nurses.

Another best practice is for organizations to maintain the same security protocols for travel nurses and full-time staff. Those include standards compliance, two-factor authentication and password regulation. Rather than working around the system to integrate travel nurses quickly, IT teams should provide a crash course on the same security protocols required of staff. It can also be helpful to implement basic video training on security best practices, such as how to recognize phishing attacks and what to do if you receive a phishing email.

Tech to Lessen Healthcare Organizations’ Reliance on Travel Nurses

One way to reduce an organization’s reliance on travel nurses is to prevent patients from being admitted to a hospital in the first place. Better collection and analysis of social determinants of health data can improve preventive care and keep patients out of the hospital. Video triage enables nurses to meet with patients virtually to determine whether they should go to a hospital, which can also reduce the patient load for nurses.

Another way to lessen reliance on travel nurses without increasing the burden on staff nurses is for health IT and clinical leaders to implement technologies that help nurses scale and increase efficiencies. Remote nurse monitoring solutions allow one nurse to monitor multiple patients. If a patient needs help, the remote nurse can notify an onsite nurse to visit the patient’s room.

This model can transform med-surg or intensive care unit nurse-to-patient ratios from 1:1 to 1:4 or 1:6, depending on the patients’ conditions. Virtual care solutions such as remote nurse monitoring help load-balance nurse workflows. In addition, computer vision paired with artificial intelligence allows one nurse to scale up to 20 rooms by combining video, sensors and AI to monitor patients’ vitals and movements.

READ MORE: Find out how single sign-on solutions help achieve efficient clinician workflows.

However, before implementing such advanced solutions, healthcare IT and clinical leaders need to understand the technologies they already have in place. Healthcare organizations should be looking for optimizations within their current investments rather than buying the newest shiny toy for technology’s sake. Ensuring that technology implementations don’t add to nurse burnout will increase the likelihood of nurse retention and well-being.

Healthcare organizations also need to make sure they have the proper foundations in place, such as a robust clinical communication and collaboration platform to support efficient communication between nurses and other care team members.

New technology should be simple to use and enable nurses to provide consistent, quality care. It should also lead to better outcomes and data analytics. When federal requirements drove adoption of the EHR, many clinicians pushed back. Even as recently as four years ago, 40 percent of clinicians perceived more challenges than benefits with EHRs, according to research from Stanford Medicine.

Organizations should choose technology based on clinical input to ensure successful implementation and greater adoption. Platforms are often easier to use than point solutions, and many allow healthcare organizations to add functionality in the future rather than implement another unfamiliar solution.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.

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