Lovelace implements AI tech to alleviate nurse shortage

By Jacob Maranda - New Mexico Inno Reporter

An AI-powered technology implemented at Lovelace Health System could help alleviate the state's nursing shortage. 

Lovelace Health System started using a virtual nursing technology in its emergency area in early November. The tech is developed by CareAI, an Orlando, Florida-based smart health company.

It works by allowing nurses to connect with patients virtually via a screen in their rooms. Nurses page into a patient's room, asking permission to virtually come onto the display.

"They see exactly what you're seeing right now," said Lovelace Medical Center Nurse John Donga during a Dec. 29 video call with Albuquerque Business First. "I see them in their bed. I can zoom in so I can get a pretty good look at their monitors. I can see their pumps and things like that."

Donga is currentlythe only virtual nurse at Albuquerque's Lovelace Medical Center. The AI-powered tech allows nurses to complete a variety of tasks, like routine monitoring and documentation, completely virtually. It also uses AI to continuously monitor conditions and learn from certain behaviors, according to CareAI's website.

Currently, Donga is set up to monitor around 30 patients using the virtual assistance technology at Lovelace Medical Center and the Heart Hospital of New Mexico. But he typically sees about 10 patients per hour, virtually.

"I find that even on a quick visit with a patient, I try to give myself about a minute to two minutes per patient," Donga said.

That's one of the technology's benefits, Donga said. It allows nurses to focus exclusively on a single patient at a time, he said.

Although patients can't, as of yet, use the technology to ask for assistance themselves, Donga said that he's gotten into the habit of appearing in patients' rooms over the screen about once every hour. That way, patients know when to expect a virtual visit and can share any relevant information, he said.

The technology is in its early stages, but Donga said he and Abigail Kendall, Lovelace Medical Center's chief nursing officer, have already started to come up with improved ways to utilize it.

"I'm excited about the things I don't know, the things I haven't thought of," Donga said. "I really keep putting it out to the other nurses I talk to that if you have an idea, let me know. Even if you don't have a solution, give me an idea and we can work on it because that's what's exciting about [the technology]."

Donga said the technology can help alleviate physical burdens put on nurses while making hospitals run more efficiently. One example Donga gave was when a doctor needed an MRI screening for a patient.

"I was able to do that on the computer," Donga said. "… The whole process took only a couple minutes where it normally would take time to get the paperwork and fax it to them. We were able to get that patient down to the MRI pretty quickly."

And, Donga said, the technology creates more versatility for nurses. Instead of having to work a physically demanding job in the hospital, nurses can operate the virtual nursing assistant from home and still effectively deliver education to and collect information from patients.

"One of the big things facing health care is that we're going to have a shortage of nurses," Donga said. "You'll have nurses with decades of experience who are able to re-enter the workspace.

"I myself am doing it because I had an accident falling over one of my dogs and I messed up my knee and can't be on the floor right now," he continued. "But I'm still able to help patients, I'm still able to do something. Hopefully, this is a way that these nurses who aren't able to be on the floor can make an impact to make things better."

Lovelace has plans to expand the technology at the Lovelace Medical Center and to other Lovelace hospitals, said Whitney Marquez, communications manager for Lovelace Health System, in a Dec. 13 email to Business First. Lovelace is owned by Nashville, Tennessee-based Ardent Health Services and is the first hospital in Ardent's network to implement the virtual nursing assistant technology, Marquez said in a Dec. 29 call with Business First.

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