by Spencer Blohm
Most of us are already familiar with the large changes wrought by modern technology in the fields of communications, entertainment and record-keeping. What many people don’t realize is that nursing is in the midst of a similar revolution: an incorporation of advanced equipment into a field that has traditionally been all about human interactions. Nursing has already shifted to take advantage of some of the latest developments, making it very different from the way it was practiced decades ago, and the field as a whole is expected to evolve even more going forward.
The United States, along with much of the developed world, is seeing seniors comprise a growing share of the population. Right now, one in seven Americans is older than 65 years, and by 2030, it is expected that their numbers will be double what they were in 2000. This means that demand for nursing will increase in the near future because a large fraction of the people in the country will require care. Only by employing sophisticated equipment and procedures to aid the highly skilled nurses already in place can society successfully meet this demand.
The use of electronic health records (EHR) is an important, and long overdue, step that will make it easy for nurses, physicians and other caregivers to access accurate and up-to-date information about patients. With paper records or records stored in non-standard, proprietary formats, it’s difficult to transfer information seamlessly between different healthcare organizations or even between individuals within the same organization. The government issued a mandate in 2014 calling on all healthcare providers to transition over to using EHRs. Even though the new system will require some adaptation by seasoned nurses and may seem like a burden, the benefits of a standardized system far outweigh any negative elements when it will ultimately simplify your job.
With the proper telehealth infrastructure, nurses can deliver care to patients who are in different locations. This can be very useful for those who live in rural or out-of-the-way locations, who might not have local access to adequate health care facilities. This development also has uses in training because students who are spread out geographically can observe and learn from the actions of a professional nurse – some remotely located educational institutes, such as Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, have already implemented the use of telehealth equipment in their nursing programs.
Remote monitoring systems will be able to alert nurses when their patients require assistance, alert doctors when patients aren’t properly taking their medication, and send medication reminders to patients. Currently, most alarms are set up in hospital beds and physically beep when certain conditions are met, meaning nurses must be within audible range of the unit to respond, and the alarms often turn out to be false. By allowing nurses to instead receive a text message or other indication on their smart devices, they won’t need to be tethered to the immediate vicinity of a patient’s bed. Additionally, remote monitoring could reduce physical visits to the doctor by allowing medication doses to be adjusted remotely through this technology.
In order to take full advantage of EHRs and the possibilities offered by both remote monitoring and a proper telehealth infrastructure, hospitals and medical facilities will need to acquire advanced communication technologies, including high speed internet connectivity. But these communication systems are well worth the time and financial investments. These systems will be able to reduce false alerts and assist in keeping patients healthier over longer periods of time. And because these systems will be continuously monitoring and alerting nurses with accurate real-time data, the systems will be able to detect problems before they grow serious, positively affecting the readmission rates of hospitals.
We’re already starting to see nursing transform into a field making full use of modern communications and automation technologies. Tug, an advanced health care robot, is being used in some hospitals today to complete mundane tasks formerly performed by humans including transporting medical waste, delivering medications and linens to the floor, and gathering empty food trays. As these advanced tools become more prevalent, they’ll increase the efficiency of nurses and free up their time, allowing each nurse to take care of more people simultaneously and successfully meet society’s growing demands of the field. While the implementation of such technologies may seem daunting at the moment, they are necessary and will be beneficial for both you and the patient.
Spencer Blohm is a freelance writer with a special interest in the growing importance of technology in the medical industry. He lives and works in Chicago where he lives vicariously through the variety of articles he writes.