Technology in health care is always changing and improving—this means faster, more accurate, and safer ways to do your job. Here’s the scoop on the latest and what’s coming in the not-too-distant future.

Technology has been making our lives easier throughout history. While some people are concerned that more efficient technology prevents nurses from spending time with patients, experts say that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“There is a fear that technology takes nurses away from the patient to spend time at the computer. As interface capabilities increase, more time can be spent with the patient,” argues Nikkia Whitaker, MSN, RN, CCRN, clinical technology integration manager at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “Having systems work together to decrease multiple workflows and eliminate manual processes is what will help nurses appreciate the emergence of technology.”

Get Ready, ‘Cause Here it Comes

Remember when you were a kid and you wondered if eventually robots would take over the world? That’s not happening exactly, but robots are being implemented in health care. And don’t worry; your job is safe.

Both large and small technologies are revolutionizing the nursing practice in so many ways, says Divina Grossman, PhD, RN, FAAN, president and chief academic officer at University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. “One example is the deployment of robots, such as those that deliver patient medications from the pharmacy to hospital units, automate the preparation of chemotherapy and other drug admixtures, take patient vital signs, deliver food to patient rooms, or transport linens throughout the hospital,” says Grossman.

Robots, though, are just a small part of what is going on technologically in health care. Grossman says that mobile technologies, used by themselves or with other technologies, can reduce clinical errors, improve quality and safety, and reduce the physical burden of care for bedside nurses. “Hand-held devices like iPhones with different apps can be used for accessing and charting patient information at the point of care; linking barcoded drugs, treatments, and patients accurately; communicating between patients and nurses across different rooms or areas; remotely detecting motion in bed of patients at risk for falls; and obtaining diagnostic test results at the bedside are a few examples,” explains Grossman. “The tasks of lifting, positioning, and moving patients—which historically have caused frequent back strain and physical injuries for nurses—can now be done using smart technology systems and can even be operated remotely.”

Cathy Turner, BSN, MBA, RN-BC, associate vice president of MEDITECH, agrees that the use of smartphones is part of an ongoing trend to help support nurses in their delivery of care. “Nurses do many different things during a shift of care, and they interact with patients in different ways. Sometimes a device such as a Workstation on Wheels is the appropriate vehicle for the workflow, but there may be times where something smaller may be less intrusive,” Turner explains. “Smartphone devices are able to deliver that flexibility. The smaller devices may be something nurses are already using for calls, secure texting, etc. Why not be able to do a quick medication administration using scanning and documentation tools fully integrated into the Electronic Health Record [EHR]? The other advantage to this type of device is that it is similar to a patient’s use of their portal from an app on their phone. This provides a nice opportunity to share what they are doing on their device on behalf of the patient and provides a teachable moment for the patient using the portal.”

But there are even more types of technology that can directly help nurses who are working with patients. “Wearable technology, telephone monitoring, and nanotechnology further expand the ability to monitor patients’ physiologic parameters—not just episodically as snapshots, but continuously for diagnostic, therapeutic, and clinical evaluation purposes,” says Grossman. For example, “with a noncompliant patient, a sensor can detect whether and when a patient took their medication and have the information transmitted electronically to a nurse through an app on a mobile device. Medication dosages can be adjusted commensurate with serum levels throughout the day; these can also be correlated with levels of blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, stress or anxiety measured by the same wearable devices,
or sensors.”

EHR, an Oldie, but a Goodie

While EHRs aren’t exactly from the stone age, they are the most familiar and most widely used technologies in health care today. But they have also come a long way.

“[EHRs] and Point of Care documentation devices are probably among the most adopted technologies,” says Majd Alwan, PhD, senior vice president of technology at LeadingAge, as well as the executive director of the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies. “What is new: over the past couple of years, many of these technologies have undergone significant improvement through successive upgrades. They are now much more user-friendly, touch- and even voice-enabled, mobile friendly (to provide access through tablets and smart phones), and have better clinical decision support system, information exchange, and analytics capabilities.”

“Nurses typically spend more time with patients and contribute more information to the patient record than any other member on the care team. While this entails a lot of responsibility, there is also a lot of flexibility and freedom that comes from using an integrated EHR solution. An effective EHR gives nurses more meaningful time back with their patients, and results in less time on documentation,” says Turner. “While there is perception that EHRs are too complex and impede the patient/provider relationship, an EHR designed to support nursing workflows improves both the patient experience and the quality of care that the nurse can provide.”

Turner also says that nurses no longer just enter information and observations into their patients’ EHRs. In fact, EHRs actually give back to the nursing field. “[EHRs are] providing actionable data, clinical decision support, and surveillance tools that allow nurses to proactively meet the needs of their patients,” she says.

In addition, says Turner, EHRs can suggest problems to be addressed as well as the actions that can then be taken. “They can ensure that patient safety protocols are in place, allowing the nurse to focus on more of their time and energy on the patient,” she says. “Surveillance tools monitor EHR data and identify patients at risk. Nurses spend a great deal of time documenting the care a patient receives. The surveillance tools analyze that documentation along with lab results and other data, and push notifications and actionable items to the nurses, giving them that time back.”

These surveillance tools are also able to monitor many patients through watchlists and let nurses know who needs immediate attention. “Watchlists can be built around fall risk, sepsis, CLABSI, VTE, or other potential risks that may affect a patient’s health. These lists give back to nurses, saving them time and giving them the most up-to-date information needed to effectively treat their patients,” says Turner. “I remember reading a heartbreaking story of a parent who lost their child to sepsis. The words that stuck with me: the parent implored that clinicians ask: ‘What if it’s sepsis?’ Surveillance will ask. And direct, appropriate care actions can be taken.”

Learning Via Simulation

While nursing students will always work directly with actual patients before they graduate, the use of simulations beforehand enables them to practice different procedures safely and to learn about rare procedures or cases that they may not often see. “Students are able to learn in a safe environment and can pace their learning activities; not all students learn the same way,” says Nadia Sultana, DNP, MBA, RN-BC, clinical assistant professor and nursing informatics program director at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. “Simulation centers have been planned to include technology that is similar to the work environment.”

Grossman gives an example of how simulation can help nurses learn without an increased risk for patients. “Nurse practitioner students can learn complex skills such as suturing or draining wounds, placing central lines, or inserting of chest tubes before they perform these procedures on live patients in real health care environments. Faculty also have the ability to create dynamic computer-based simulation scenarios to enable nursing students to learn how to adapt their clinical treatment decisions to fluctuations in the patient’s condition,” she says. “With simulation, the ‘patient’ can be of any age and racial background since human patient simulators can be infants, children, or adults and come in different skin tones and physical features. Through computer-based scenarios, simulated patients can become hypotensive, tachycardic, or hypoxemic, and nursing students can learn how to tailor or adapt clinical treatment decision accordingly.”

Students can also be acquainted with rare conditions via simulation. “They can learn how to assess those patients using simulators. For example, a student may not be able to encounter a live patient with Tetralogy of Fallot in the clinic during the semester, but he or she can auscultate, palpate, and assess the relevant findings using the Harvey cardiology simulator. This simulator can mimic 50 different cardiac conditions and also simulate any cardiac disease in a realistic way,” Grossman explains. “The ability to learn interprofessional practice and teamwork using simulated case scenarios like a post-disaster situation or an acute stroke patient in the ER with teams of students from multiple programs—nursing, medicine, PA, et cetera—is also possible with simulation. Thus, nursing and other health care students can learn how to communicate with each other and collaborate in the care management of an individual patient or groups of patients through simulation before they are assigned to care for live patients.”

Emerging Technology

An even more advanced type of simulation is coming—virtual reality—and both student nurses and experienced ones are going to be stunned with how realistic it will be.

“Virtual reality or augmented reality simulation…depart from the conventional treatment simulation with three-dimensional image data and computer software. Implementation of virtual simulation requires the ability to transfer the planned treatment geometry from the computer to the treatment room in a way which is accurate, reproducible, and efficient enough for routine use,” says Grossman. “Haptics are an example of virtual reality technology where the nursing student can do patient assessment and examination and feel the virtual patient’s skin and body, with the ability to perform clinical interventions. Using engaging and immersive technology like Google Glass or HoloLens, the student can feel being in the real-world health environment, move around freely, interact with the patient and others, carry out tests and treatments, and learn from their mistakes while in the lab or simulation center without compromising patient safety.”

Have no Fear

If the thoughts of working with some of this technology scares you, don’t worry. The facility will provide you with the training you need, and the technology will make health care safer and allow you more time with patients.

“It is easy to be afraid of change, but you must always keep in mind what is best for the patient. Put yourself in the patient’s position and imagine how much safer they must feel to know that so many systems are working to support their care,” says Whitaker. “Do not be afraid to advance. A nurse’s touch will always be valued and needed, but technology can help bring nursing care to the highest level.”

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

Latest posts by Michele Wojciechowski (see all)

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