How has technology changed the healthcare landscape for nurses?

Hospitals in the US deal with high volumes of patients every day, but evolving technologies are a huge benefit to the system and the professionals who manage it. On the front line of patient care, nurses have been the first to adopt many of these advancements. As a result, they have been able to deliver effective care more swiftly and efficiently. In years to come, tech innovations will continue to change the world of healthcare, and with each new wave, nurses will adapt to the transformations that occur.

How do nurses adjust to these new ways of working?

Experienced nurses receive on-the-job training when a new piece of equipment or software is integrated into their practice. Aspiring nurses can learn about healthcare innovations through a university program, so they will graduate with a deep understanding of how technology can make their tasks more manageable. At Rockhurst University, the accelerated nursing program online prepares nurses for working with cutting-edge devices in an advanced simulation lab. The course is aimed at people with a degree in an unrelated specialism and can be completed within 16 months.

A nurse’s daily duties are simplified

The average nurse has a vast number of responsibilities that need to be addressed during each shift. Coupled with this, they may need to attend to an emergency or assist a colleague with a complex procedure. From finding supplies to writing up notes and participating in collaborations, it’s often the case that there is very little time left for patients. Technology is changing this dynamic by performing labor-saving tasks independently or allowing nurses to carry out their work more quickly. The two key solutions being used in healthcare are data analytics, which is harnessed to inform medical informatics, and robotics, both of which take some of the strain from nurses and enable them to spend more time around their patients.

Nurses can check in with patients using remote monitoring

Using a portable monitor, nurses can keep an eye on their patient’s progress without having to make regular bed checks. They can do this while a patient sleeps and when they themselves are busy with a different task. Portable monitoring equipment can measure a range of vital signs, including electrocardiography, oxygen saturation level and respiratory rate. The information is gathered, processed in seconds, and relayed to a central display unit. If there is a problem, a nurse will be notified immediately. In the majority of wards, nurses do hourly rounds, during which they check these readings manually. By adopting portable tech, hospitals allow nurses to constantly track their patients and never miss a regular reading – even when things are hectic.

Wearables give immediate insight into a patient’s condition

Wearables are devices such as watches, bracelets and body-mounted sensors that track a person’s sleep cycle, breathing pattern, heart rate and more. These allow patients to take more of an active role in monitoring their health but are also of benefit to nurses. Most wearables use technology that can be synced with an app to which health professionals have access. This can assist a nurse with making a diagnosis but also with monitoring a person’s treatment plan and recovery. As the data can be linked with a patient’s records, it makes documentation a simpler and more accurate process for nurses.

Automation takes care of dispensing medication 

Automated medication devices offer the same use as portable monitors, in that they free up nurses over a day. Instead of having to make rounds and wake patients who need to take their medication or have a drip changed, nurses can rely on smart pumps to deliver the right dose at the right time through an IV. These devices rely on a nurse to set the dosage for a patient, but it will send alerts if the patient is reacting poorly, if the tube is blocked or if the drug is running low.

Precise, reliable, and accurate care

Smart IV pumps can also deliver nutrition for patients who need it and space out the dispensing, so it is provided at the right time of day or night. Furthermore, some hospitals have already adopted self-pumps that enable patients to alter the dose of pain medication they are given independently. This technology ensures the dose remain safe and notifies a nurse should the patient need assistance. These devices save time for nurses who would otherwise have to measure and dispense medication or liquid food supplements throughout the day. Doing so frees them up to focus on other areas of their work.

How did nursing informatics became a game changer?

It’s not possible to view informatics in progress, but this is one of the most significant technologies in medicine right now. Using a series of algorithms and vast amounts of patient data, software can create reports that predict the level of risk for individual patients and groups of people. Nurses will use this information to make changes to how they work, but it can also help nurse leaders provide additional support to their teams. To save time, the relevant data can be presented on a dashboard on a smart tablet. This ensures bedside nurses have immediate access to the details and can use it to inform the care they provide. Essentially, informatics is supporting the decisions made by nursing staff by offering recommendations and ideas for treatment. These might be interventions that could happen there and then, or predictions regarding a patient’s future risk level.

When are risk predictions helpful to nurses?

At the moment, risk prediction technology powered by algorithms is most often used in ICU environments. It can show nurses the probability of a patient’s health improving or worsening based on various determinants including age, gender and previous medical history. As a result, nurses can intervene more quickly to prevent a person from going through an unexpected deterioration. Informatics can also help medical teams predict when their patients are likely to be discharged. This means the medical team can prepare their patients in advance for moving on and let the administration team know when they can accept new patients.

Recognizing social determinants of health in sick patients

Furthermore, informatics can take a person’s social determinants of health into consideration. This might include their income, employment, and past access to healthcare, as well as other factors that are known to influence a person’s health. The ability to make accurate predictions using these indicators is increasing all the time, as organizations can gather such large amounts of data from patient records, medical research, and clinical studies. Once the information is processed, it can provide details on whether a person is likely to be readmitted. If so, the medical team can find ways of discharging the patient that includes professional involvement, so they remain supported once they leave the hospital.

Digital patient health records are updated and maintained quickly

In most hospitals and clinics, paperwork is a thing of the past, and that’s due to the use of electronic medical records – a digital solution to documenting a patient’s progress. Nurses can therefore access the information they need quickly, share the details with colleagues in other departments and ensure their patient receives appropriate care. As updates can be made in real-time and viewed by everyone involved in a person’s recovery, tests are not repeated, and the facility’s costs are reduced. Using electronic medical records, nurses can also tell what is next in a patient’s treatment plan, whether they will need additional care and which changes should be monitored for.  

Easing the responsibility of documentation

As part of their daily work, nurses add to the information contained in patient records. Over time, this data is collected, processed and refined by analytic algorithms to support medical decision-making.  Therefore, even though it is not their area of expertise, nurses are vital to the creation of quality raw data. In the field of patient records, for example, they need to ensure their entries are reliable, unbiased and accurate at all times. It’s a huge responsibility, but technology can minimize the amount of documentation they have to complete and provide easier ways for it to be managed. This allows nurses to take their time when inputting clinical data that will be used for informatics.  

Making health data easier to record and manage

Rather than nurses accessing a patient’s records and inputting their statistics manually, specialist software can link a cardiac monitor or a lung function test with these records. Furthermore, voice recognition technology can be provided so that nurses can verbally document patient notes when they have time and in a convenient place. This allows them to work hands-free and potentially be more efficient. Nurses can also be provided with a work smartphone or tablet, which enables them to use a range of health technologies within a few taps.

Beds become monitors 

Patients who are resting on a smart bed have their vital signs, movement and weight monitored automatically by the device. This saves time for the nurses who need to check on people and move them if there is a likelihood of sores developing. It also prevents the type of injuries that occur when patients who are very ill, lack mobility or are on certain medications try to get up by themselves. Smart beds can alert nurses to the patient’s movements, so they can arrive in time to provide assistance and keep the person safe.

Reducing the physical demands of nursing

There are robotic devices that work in tandem with a smart bed to help in the physical lifting of patients with limited mobility. They can be utilized for the gentle transferal of people between bed and chair, or as an aid to rehabilitation. Although there will always be a nurse on hand to monitor the setting, these devices save time and minimize the physical effort a nurse would otherwise need to make.

Robots can meet and greet

Robots are a common sight in hospitals and clinics. They were first introduced to greet patients and get them signed in for an appointment. They can also be used to perform a range of basic triage functions and act as a companion, especially for senior patients who would otherwise be left alone when a nurse is busy. Seniors will still direct any concerns about their care to a nurse, but the robot offers a means of communication that would otherwise be missing.

Chatbot technology is increasingly being used to aid patients and their nurses. During a conversation with a patient, the algorithm will predict whether the person should speak with a nurse or not. Should the symptoms be mild enough and not need escalating, the bot will answer questions so that nurses can assist patients with more critical needs.

Robots help with fetching supplies

Although fetching and gathering tools, equipment and supplies is a simple job, expert nurses often spend lots of time on this task. Now, robots can be used for deliveries and collections, which saves nurses time and cuts down on the amount of walking they have to do. Robots such as the Moxi are guided around a facility and will record important locations, so their entire environment is mapped. When the team needs to request an item or a package, they speak to the robot using an interface on their phone or tablet. This ensures that skilled professionals can focus on patient care, but it also allows them to rely on automation for consistency. Patients with a specific condition might need to be treated with a certain brand or type of product or equipment. Using a robot to select and deliver their supplies, the care team can ensure these requirements are fulfilled.

Remote monitoring is advanced through telehealth 

Several surveys have shown that telehealth is appreciated by the professionals who use it to care for patients. In particular, they are impressed by the opportunities it offers for daily health monitoring, convenient scheduling and swift feedback. Once incorporated into a hospital or clinic, telehealth services can also lower the costs of providing healthcare. In part, this is because patients can access the help they need quickly, so their condition does not deteriorate. In addition, money is also saved on readmissions, as nurses can monitor patients who have been discharged and help them manage their condition at home.

Constant access to care from home

Telehealth technology cuts down or replaces in-person visits through the use of video or phone calls. Patients can therefore stay at home when they are sick, rather than come to the hospital and possibly pass on an infection. In order to monitor a patient’s health, devices at their home will send nurses information on blood sugar level, heart rate and more so that nurses can oversee the person’s recovery. Furthermore, telehealth provides a useful way for nurses to stay connected through online chats and telemedicine apps, so they can answer patient queries and give advice on managing symptoms as it is needed.

Improving the experience of healthcare for patients 

It’s not just about minimizing the need to carry out repetitive tasks and giving nurses time to complete other duties. Technology can also improve the standard of care that patients receive and support better health outcomes.

Human errors are reduced

As it can’t get tired, feel stressed or be overworked, technology is useful in reducing human errors. Furthermore, it is less likely to omit patient information and will not forget that information has been added to a file. Therefore, a person’s medical history, allergies, medications and more will always be visible when a nurse opens the record or searches for a term. It’s the same for the administration of drugs, as once the smart pump has been programmed, it will always work within its set parameters. This takes pressure off nurses, keeps patients safe and reduces the rates of hospital readmissions.

Communication is enhanced

Modern nurses use an array of collaboration tools to stay in touch with other people on their healthcare team and agree on decisions in real-time. They might carry a phone or a tablet and use a headset to chat hands-free. These devices make the task of coordinating care far simpler, as they allow nurses to access a person’s test results in seconds, so a problem can be identified and diagnosed quickly. As the patient’s condition improves, they might move between wards or be discharged altogether. With better communication, these handovers are managed more efficiently and with the involvement of more professionals. As a result, patients are only moved when the time is right and are discharged with the support they need.

A better future for nurses and patients

Technology in healthcare is able to improve the working conditions of nurses and the health outcomes of the patients they care for. Although people will always be needed to care for patients in a hospital setting, technology is allowing professionals to identify conditions sooner, keep more accurate records and find the information they need immediately. This means that despite the staffing challenges felt across the nation, we can still expect an excellent standard of care. Moreover, health professionals can enhance their practice and enjoy higher levels of job satisfaction. 

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david harnold

David's versatile blogging expertise spans across multiple domains, including fashion, finance, and education. With 5 years of experience, he curates engaging content that resonates with his audience, offering practical advice and inspiration in equal measure.

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