Recent technological breakthroughs, ranging from electronic health records to real-time location systems, have helped positively transform patient care throughout the world. These advanced innovations in the healthcare industry have saved countless lives and revolutionized quality of treatment as it pertains to pharmaceuticals, information retention and processing, biomedicine and more. Nurses — especially those who are seeking or have already earned an advanced degree — must keep pace with these new technologies in order to best serve patients and train new generations of nurses. While there are myriad emerging technologies that can help leaders in the nursing field with their daily tasks and routines, this article will focus on six specific areas that have impacted care delivery.
Electronic Health Records
One of the most useful advancements in the healthcare industry is the widespread use of electronic health records (EHRs), which have curbed the endless paperwork, negated the tedium of filling out patient charts and eliminated the need to wait for hard copies of medical records. This technology allows easy and immediate sharing of records between facilities and providers, thereby improving communication and quality of care for patients and increasing the scope of patient information available to nurses and other health care workers. EHRs provide nurses and other health care workers with access to a patient’s complete health information at the point of care, allowing earlier diagnosis and treatment.
According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), EHRs “can automate manual tasks, streamline documentation, and enhance communication among caregivers.” EHRs can also improve quality of care and boost safety by reducing the risk of medication errors and allowing automated alerts to prevent potential errors or allergic reactions when a new medication is prescribed. In a paper-based system, identifying problems such as these is much more time-consuming.
Mobile Communication Systems
Better quality of care depends on staff communication and coordination, and facilities that integrate mobile communication systems report significant improvements in those areas. According to Andrea Elmquist, spokesperson for Craig Hospital, a rehabilitation center in Englewood, Colorado that specializes in spinal cord and traumatic brain injury, installing a mobile communication system—which allows staff to communicate in real time on a two-way, in-house system—decreased untimely interruptions for clinicians and improved patients’ experience and overall level of care.
“The biggest benefit from the nursing perspective is that we now have one device for communicating about care, medication administration, and receiving alert messages,” Elmquist said. “The nurses often had a type of tool belt that held multiple devices—such as cell phones and pagers—and were used for various clinical purposes.”
Elmquist said that by streamlining communication for the company’s clinical staff, nurses were able to locate other nurses around the hospital, send secure direct messages to other clinicians, assign tasks to themselves or others, and receive patient alerts—all on one device.
Patient-Generated Health Data Systems
Getting patients involved in their own healthcare is an overarching goal of nurses, and tapping into patient-generated data is one very effective way to do that. Patients can gather and record data via smart phones or wearable technology (such as smart watches) to encourage self-care and promote a greater understanding of their own health. The types of data that can be collected include blood pressure, exercise habits, blood sugar levels, and food intake.
Health care professionals reported to NIH that having access to patient-generated health data offered a deeper understanding about a patient’s condition; more accurate, clinically relevant patient information; and insight into a patient’s home health and clinical care needs. Adding patient-generated lifestyle and self-care data to nurses’ diagnostic toolkit can result in more accurate treatment plans and shorter recovery times.
Patient-generated information also helps reduce incidents of readmission by offering current patients tools for better self-care; addressing patients with chronic conditions to help them manage ongoing care at home; and engaging healthy patients by promoting fitness and preventive behaviors. Improving these areas increases nurses’ productivity, allowing them to provide better-quality care for more patients.
Real-Time Location Systems
Global positioning systems can pinpoint one’s whereabouts outside, but not indoors. Real-time location systems (RTLSs) solve indoor tracking issues, allowing hospitals and other health care facilities to immediately locate patients and medical equipment anywhere on campus.
Being able to locate equipment, patients and staff members in real time can increase the efficiency of all nurses. These location systems use specialized receivers mounted within the building that receive signals from ID badges worn by patients and caregivers—as well as tags mounted on equipment—to monitor and report locations. For example, a real-time location system allows a nurse to locate the nearest blood pressure machine by using a radio frequency and the corresponding tag.
RTLSs reduce the lag in a chain of communication and streamline the patient care delivery process by organizing a complex workflow environment based on real-time data. The types of data collected include staff and equipment availability, patient location, and information about which provider saw a patient last.
Smart Alarm Technology
Alarm hazards are one of the Emergency Care Research Institute’s top technology hazards, as the overwhelming number, frequency and variety of machine alarm sounds in hospital rooms can cause clinicians to ignore them, or shut them off. Even the most vigilant nurse can experience “alarm fatigue,” becoming desensitized to the ever-present sound of medical device alarms and therefore, having a delayed reaction to them or even missing them. These alarms play an essential role in patient care and safety, but the overwhelming number of them can become problematic, especially when a percentage of those alarms turn out to be false.
Smart alarms use available technologies to reduce the number of false alarms by taking into account a range of parameters. Rather than using just raw data, these smart alarms use filters and algorithms to analyze the rates of change and signal quality before sounding an alarm. There’s also a push to standardize alarm sounds to reduce the overall number of alerts and further allow nurses to focus their senses and attention. Some industry groups are also suggesting that standardized alarms could be implemented using simple protocols, like a range of melodic sounds to signal between one and eight different alarm sources, with urgency distinguished using low, medium, and high levels of sound intensity. These modernized and efficient alarms let a nurse know if there’s really a cause for concern.
Nursing Education Software Advancements
Nurse education, like nursing itself, is dynamic in nature, and current technology now allows for online classes and patient simulators. Additionally, nursing students must become familiar with EHR and charting systems. According to the National League of Nursing’s (NLN) 2015 “Vision Series” report, “teaching with and about emerging technology is the future of nursing education. Providing nursing care in a highly technological, connected work environment is the future of nursing practice.”
The NLN’s report addressed a “compelling need for technological fluency and competency” in nurses, ultimately recommending that they be able to understand cloud computing and data storage platforms; navigate the emerging virtual health care industry, where patients are treated remotely; and operate mobile health devices. As health care professionals continue to encourage patients to take charge of their own care, nursing education grants nurses the ability to translate patient-gathered data into viable treatment options.
Today’s leaders in nursing must be experts in the latest advancement, as well as knowledgeable about emerging innovations. By utilizing these technologies, nurses and healthcare professionals can improve patients’ experiences and help provide the best care possible. An advanced degree and hands-on training in systems and informatics can prepare nurses for leadership positions in nursing administration.
Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.
Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program helps students hone their knowledge and skills to assume leadership positions in nursing informatics, healthcare systems or education. The program aims to develop students who could take a role in shaping health policy, in educating other nurses and healthcare professionals, and in providing advanced care to their patients. The Nursing Informatics Concentration focuses on the growing fields of informatics and data analytics as applied to the practice of nursing to improve patient outcomes. Norwich’s online nursing program coursework has been developed based on guidelines by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
The Impact of Emerging Technology on Nursing Care: Warp Speed Ahead, The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Technology: Key to Transforming Nursing Education, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
What's Ahead for EHR-Related Technology in 2017, AdvancedMD
Improved Diagnostics & Patient Outcomes, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
How a mobile alert system improves nurse, physician workflow, PatientSafe Solutions
Four Technology Recommendations to Reduce Alarm Fatigue, Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare
A Vision For The Changing Faculty Role: Preparing Students for the Technological World of Health Care, National League for Nursing