Technology is touching every aspect of our lives. This is true whether we’re talking about our personal lives or our professional ones. Technology is starting to affect the core aspects of nursing and healthcare, with online charting systems, electronic health records and telehealth being prime examples. And the changes we’re seeing are only the beginning. Let’s take a look at 7 ways technology has transformed the nursing field, and will continue to do so in the future.
Advances in Accessibility
Technology is providing increasing levels of accessibility. One way is the ability to access electronic health records via tablet computers no matter where you and the patient are. Nurses can now enter notes as they sit with a patient in the lounge or perform physical therapy. Healthcare providers can often order tests and access lab test results quickly and through the same interface as they use to view the notes of a patient’s prior visit.
Another is the use of telemedicine. Patients are increasingly able to talk to nurses about symptoms, discuss concerns with doctors, or attend counseling via video chat. This allows patients who can’t leave their homes unaided or would otherwise have to travel hours to reach a healthcare facility to have equal access to healthcare as those who live in big cities. For example, the nonprofit Children’s Home Society of Florida created a telehealth program that
- More than tripled the amount of child psychiatry services offered statewide.
- Increased follow-up session attendance 12%
- Increased the amount of counseling services offered statewide 15000%
And one of the areas where telemedicine could be especially beneficial is when it comes to serving rural areas. James Marcin, a critical care pediatrician, stated that he routinely consults through a telehealth monitor assisted by primary care doctors. “We can virtually put a telehealth monitor right by the patient’s bedside,” he said.“Within minutes, we were able to see the patient and speak with the parents to help with care.”
Here are some of the other things that could be made possible with telemedicine:
- Direct to consumer service
- Self-service options
- Greater collaboration between providers
- Faster diagnosing
- Better remote monitoring
- Extend at-home care
With health care technology becoming more affordable, telemedicine could end up literally transforming spaces where care is provided by having to factor in things such as safe cabling, installation of high-resolution monitors and sensors, and advanced sound equipment. Distance care will also end up benefiting both patients and providers, with healthcare facilities not being to juggle as many cases, and with patients not having to move for routine checks.
New Tools In Health Care
Nurses have had to continue their education simply to keep up with new treatments, medications, and diagnostic tests. We’re starting to see mobile laboratories and patients handing over data from health trackers. Remote patient monitoring is becoming commonplace, while portable monitors and innovative telehealth platforms allow nurses to check patient vitals at any time.
Here are some common types of portable monitors:
- Heart rate monitors
- Activity monitors
- Oxygen saturation level monitors
- Respiratory rate monitors
- Location monitors
This is why nursing programs are teaching students how to use these common pieces of equipment. Patients may engage in self-care tracked via an app and portable devices as well.
While all of this forces nurses to continually educate themselves, most nurses agree that this is, on the whole, positive. For example, one survey of more than six hundred professional nurses showed that more than four-fifths of nurses thought new technology and equipment would positively impact patient care.
The Acceptance of Online Education
Patients are already scheduling appointments and paying their doctor’s bills online. They are starting to take health education modules online, whether it is in order to eat better or manage an ongoing health problem more effectively.
Nurses are starting to enroll in online education programs, too. Not only is this a growing option for those entering the field, but is an opportunity for nurses who’d like to further their education to do so on their own time while keeping their positions.
These online programs often also have bridge options that allow students to get their credentials faster. Walsh University, for instance, has an online doctor of nursing practice program that can be completed as fast as two semesters longer than your average master’s. The only prerequisite is that the student has a nursing bachelor’s degree. Here are some of the other benefits of online programs for nurses:
- Ability to attend out of state programs without leaving their home state
- Circumventing local faculty shortages
- More convenience and flexibility
- Interactive learning experience
- Access to a top-quality education using state of the art tools
This could have great implications for the future of nursing, especially when it comes to bringing more educators into the fold. We all know that there is a huge shortage in nursing at the moment. But what many don’t realize is that a lot of it has to do with a lack of faculty, not willing students.
According to school of nursing director, Dr. Lucy Huckabay, the shortage will be insurmountable without filling the gap in faculty. “The overall number of nurses needed will be horrendous to absorb. Especially when we don’t have the faculty,” she said. “Between the fall and spring semesters, we turn around 1,200 students per year.”
And as great as technology is, we can’t expect it to replace demand for nurses any time soon. Japan and many countries are developing robotic nurses, and have started rolling them out. But what these machines lack is the empathy and the human touch patients demand from nurses, so we don’t expect to see these devices replacing people in providing patient care.
This is why more has to be done to help new nurses get into the pipeline, who will then be able to become able teachers. And online learning could be one of the options to deal with the direct need for faculty, and facilitate the transition from the floor to the classroom for a new crop of nursing educators.
The Simplification of Health Care Service Delivery
Technology often means that tasks no longer have to be done by highly skilled professionals. They may be given to technicians or handed off to the patients themselves.
Automated IV pumps measure medication doses given to patients, making it easier to change drip amounts and not give someone too much. EHRs allow patients to request documentation be shared, often through a health portal, eliminating the need for administrative staff to make copies and mail it off to someone.
Not only does the information arrive faster, but there is less room for errors. Other tools reduce the opportunity for error, something that’s invaluable in high-stress environments like patient care. Smart systems may warn nurses when something is set outside of normal parameters or warn them when a patient’s vitals are trending downward. This allows nurses to focus on care as it is required instead of wasting time checking on patients who are fine.
Technology that can reduce the nursing load is one way we can deal with the nursing shortage. It may mean letting retired nurses work from home providing telehealth consultations. Other nurses may provide telehealth consultations, reducing their stress while serving many more patients because they don’t have to drive between patient’s homes. Or it may take the form of robots carrying patients instead of asking nurses to risk blowing out their back moving heavy patients.
The Integration of Smart Devices into Everyday Equipment
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the integration of many smaller devices into the internet. “Smart” devices are those that have some level of intelligence, many of which can send data to the cloud or report issues to human monitors.
Both are starting to affect patient care at a fundamental level. For example, hospital beds are becoming smart. They can now track patient movement and weight on an ongoing basis, and some can even track a patient’s vital signs. Nurses may be notified if a patient falls out of bed or if their activity level or vital signs drop off. Wearable devices such as Hexoskin’s smart shirt or Olea Sensor’s touch free technology may track the patient’s vitals or simply their location. Now you can find someone who has wandered off, while some monitoring devices will report their location if they fall down.
Smartphones are being integrated into patient care, as well. Nurses can use apps to monitor someone’s breathing or scan blood work so that the patient can be properly diagnosed in a manner of minutes. Centralized command centers are becoming commonplace in hospitals, and nurses are often receiving instructions via smartphones and tablet computers. At the same time, intelligent systems monitor a variety of metrics. The benefits of this include:
- Fewer clinical errors
- Reduced administrative delays
- Data-enabled decision making
- Improved communication between staff
- Data collection for evidence-based nursing practice
- Enforcement of standards
All of this results in a better quality of care for patients and is often delivered at a lower overall cost. And that’s going to be essential as we face the increasing demands of an aging population.
The Increasing Importance of IT Security
The growth of technology like electronic health records is making IT security a concern for patients and healthcare providers alike. EHRs are often kept in the cloud, and denial of service attacks can cut nurses off from patient records. Hackers are making money encrypting medical data and threatening to delete it if they aren’t paid a ransom.
Others simply steal patient profiles and sell them. This means a nurse clicking on a phishing email could lead to the corruption of medical records or the theft of thousands of patients’ identities. Healthcare organizations can be hit with hefty fees if they have data breaches or simply fail to maintain patient privacy.
In April of last year alone, there were over 44 healthcare data breaches perpetrated. To put this number in perspective, over 700,000 people in total were affected by these breaches. This is why we can expect healthcare facilities to put more time, energy, and resources into preventing breaches, both from the inside and out.
As a matter of fact, it was estimated that around 58 percent of all data breaches in the healthcare sector were the result of insider attacks. This is the highest percentage out of all industries.
Some of the ways in which healthcare facilities can decrease the chances for breaches include:
- Controlling data access
- Better employee training to recognize threats and suspicious activity
- Revising or restricting bring your own device policies
- Securing message systems and wireless networks
- Privileging paper formats for specific sensitive information
But the most important thing is making sure that sensitive information is only available on a need to know basis. And this isn’t only limited to nurses, but to physicians who can also be liabilities. There have to be ways to make some information only temporarily available to healthcare providers, and that said information is secured and protected. Patients should also be able to secure their own information through passwords and other verification methods to apply an additional layer of protection.
Smart Bed Technology
Another technology that is having a big impact on the way nurses do their work is smart bed technology. Smart beds can track things such as weight, movement, or even vitals, at any time of the day or night.
Smart beds can play an important role in keeping patients comfortable and safe during their stay. Thousands of patients end up getting injured or worsening their situations due to falls every year, and smart beds could help reduce these cases.
Smart beds can also help staff monitor patients better, giving them regular communications and updates on a patient’s state. This could also help them identify certain patterns in patients, and maybe readdress a diagnosis. Or it could help them monitor improvements in a patient’s situation.
Smart bed technology also allows nurses and other staff to spend less time bedside adjusting or replacing supplies and medical equipment. This gives them more time to spend on other more pressing needs and alleviates their workload.
Technological advances in medicine are relentless because they are so often necessary. Nurses must remain on top of these technology trends if they want to be able to continue to serve their patients. The internet is making it easier than ever for them to stay current, and further their education in order to tackle these new challenges and master these new tools.
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