It is fair to say that in the last 20 years technology and computers have changed medicine.
Everything from charting to patient records is now automated. Allowing doctors and nurses the ability to find patient information quickly and effectively.
These innovative technologies have also allowed patients better access to their medical records. Which can make it easier if they need to check the name of a prescription.
There is of course some minor opposition to technology in medicine. Society as a whole is moving towards being more technologically based, but many nurses and doctors have concerns. Technology is seen as taking away bedside manner. From areas like nursing and even midwifery.
However, these medical professionals appear to be in the minority. A study into nursing found that 82% of 600 nurses felt that technology was beneficial. Not only to make their lives easier, but also, to help patients’ recovery. As well as keeping more accurate and detailed records.
It has even been suggested that technologies can help to retain nurses. By reducing the workload on these medical professionals, technology can prevent burnout and may actually attract more people to study nursing.
So exactly how technology is impacting nursing in 2022? The following article finds a brief breakdown of the benefits of technology and the potential drawbacks of technology in the nursing profession. It also discusses some future advancements which can be beneficial to patient care.
Benefits of Technology
There are many ways technology is helping nurses on the wards but also, in the classroom too.
Electronic health records have helped nurses to maintain large databases of patient information. All without having to write a single word. Many of the documents contained in these records are scanned in by the nursing staff and then are simply retained. Without there needing to be any physical copy. This has also helped nurses assist patients with their care. With the ease of access to these documents, patients can have more insight into treatment options. Which can help them to decide what they want, or don’t want, and can better discuss their ailments or concerns with the nursing staff. Thus, making the care more personalized to the patient and helping the nurses to provide the highest level of care.
It has also helped nurses to transfer files to other hospitals with ease. In years gone by, the patients’ notes would have been sent in the ambulance. Usually with an orderly to the other hospital. Now, all it takes is the click of the button and the documents and records are sent to the other hospital. All without the documents needing to be moved. Or potentially lost! This has obvious benefits for the patient. If they are unconscious the nursing staff at the other hospital can access their notes and will know instantly what medications they are on, and the illnesses that they have. It also reduces miscommunication between staff. Of course, it also ensures that the patient continues to receive the highest level of care.
Technology does not stop in nursing with computers. Some nursing facilities are now able to monitor their patients remotely. Via camera and live streaming. From the nurses’ station, they can oversee the patients that they are caring for. Without having to move around the ward and potentially waste time. This also reduces the severity of potential emergencies. As they will be able to spot an issue quicker than they would on foot.
In some cases, the patients’ vital signs are also connected and streamed to the nurse’s station. So, if the patient is unconscious the nurses can detect changes in their physical health.
- Human Error
It is the nature of medicine and human interaction that things may go wrong. Due largely to miscommunication. In the past, this typically occurred when a patient was switched between wards. The new staff members would not have information on their cases. Patient files that are kept electronically reduce human error. In relation to patient care and reports and so, nurses are able to save more patients’ lives and to ensure that they receive the treatment that they need as and when they need it.
There are other examples too. Automated IV pumps can ensure that the patient gets the exact amount of medicine. Once again, improving patient care and outcomes. This allows nursing staff to assess responses more quickly and to adapt the treatment plan if needed. It also allows the changing of a drip to occur quicker too.
It starts with training. When someone begins training as a nurse, they will need access to a lot of information and the easiest way is by looking online.
The internet has a wealth of studies that explore every area of nursing and students can keep up if they miss a few lectures too. Irrespective of the level that they are studying. There are some universities that offer nursing courses such as a distance learning online PhD which can help nurses from across the country attend the most prestigious universities. Without having to travel.
It also allows nurses to gain access to additional resources. That they may find themselves. Or that their lecturers may have posted links to. Either way, computers can help nurses study. As well as teaching them about how to maintain online databases. All without having to make errors in a clinical setting. Which could cause further repercussions in the workplace.
- Reduce Nursing Shortage Issues
Many rural areas do not have access to hospitals. Or even doctors’ surgeries. Which can make it harder for patients to get access to nursing staff; but ways to get around this have been devised.
Once again, it is down to computers and smartphones. Patients can now download apps to their smartphones. Or computer, and can request an appointment from the online app. They will then be sent a message confirming the appointment. Then, they will attend it virtually. Thus, making up for nursing shortage issues and of course, ensuring that more patients get the care that they need.
This also means that it requires fewer nurses to provide care. To a larger group of people. By using remote technologies. Which can also save the patients money. As they will not have to spend a penny. Which they may have previously had to do when they had to travel to hospitals.
Potential Drawbacks of Technology in Nursing
Some people have concerns about the overuse of technology in nursing, and hospitals and doctors’ surgeries may have to struggle to mitigate them.
- Human element
This was touched on briefly earlier but some medical professionals feel that the use of technology in nursing and medicine, in general, reduces the one-to-one interaction. Between the nurse, or the doctor, and the patient. Which, in short, can lead to worsening bedside manner. If you are a patient who is in pain, this is not something you will want to experience from your medical team.
Nurses also have a role when it comes to patients’ families. They are required to convey a calming presence and to answer any questions that the family may have. In some hospitals across the US, nurses visit their patients with a wheel round computer and they type the notes rather than write them. Which puts a physical barrier between the nurse and the patient’s family. This can make the interaction seem cold and a lot less involved. It may be better for the nurse but can be worse for the patient’s family.
In the US, around 50% of nurses are aged over 50. This means it can be harder for this older generation to catch up with technology. Not to say that they cannot learn, but what is somewhat instinctive to a 30-year-old may not be to a 59-year-old.
This can cause issues with record keeping and of course, writing accurate notes. Or even ensuring that the notes go to the right place. Some hospitals have needed to put in additional training courses to ease this issue but this can be pricey and may only be partially effective.
This is one of the key weaknesses of being reliant on technology. All of the information pertained in the patients’ file will be uploaded. To a cloud-like storage system. Where it will be kept and, if not updated regularly, will be left unmonitored.
Computer systems are known for being hacked. There is limited money in the healthcare industry. So, there are few things that can prevent somebody from hacking into patient accounts. In some cases, deleting them or altering them altogether. This obviously presents a risk to patient confidentiality. In some cases, it has been reported that the information contained in patient files has been sold. On the black market or online, and can even be used to falsify documents. So, somebody may actually lose their identity via patient file hacking. They may then have to untangle a web of illegally obtained loans and other expensive consequences of having their information breached.
Some hospitals have some systems in place to prevent this from occurring. Many hospitals have patient file managers who oversee the security systems which keep the files safe. Consequently, they can attempt to shut down any suspicious activity and report it when it happens but these cannot be monitored 24 hours a day. Hackers will always aim to remove information at the time when there is the least activity. So, the hacking may not be caught. Until it is too late to do anything. Hospitals have encrypted their patient files. As have most medical surgeries. To attempt to bypass this threat; and, for the most part, it seems to be working rather well.
If you have ever worked on a computer, you know that they can spontaneously shut down and files can be lost permanently. This is not such a big deal when it is a monthly spreadsheet of a household budget, but when it is a patient file that was being edited by a nurse or doctor, it can present a problem. Especially if it contained decades of medical history. In recent years, this has not been such an issue for medical teams. As files are often backed up on a secondary system within a computer, but it has to be stated that the risk of files being lost is there. Lost files may never be retrieved. Much in the same way that files were lost when they were in paper form.
Some hospitals go one step further. As do some doctors’ surgeries. They keep both a paper version of the patient’s file and a digital version. So, if either one goes missing, the information can be quickly obtained and uploaded or printed into the alternative format.
The medical field has advanced greatly thanks to technology, and nursing as a profession has become easier to practice for many due to these advancements. More people have access to nurses and doctors than ever before. Without the patients having to spend a dime on travel. Thanks to remote appointments and the assistance of computers in hospitals allowing for more accurate measurements of patient care. As well as quicker access to patient files. From the medical staff who are looking after them. This has helped to increase patient outcomes in hospitals and doctors’ settings. Without putting additional pressure on the medical staff. Without staff having to undertake extensive training to make sure these aims are met. Which could be expensive, and potentially ineffective.
Some people have concerns that it is taking over, however, and that soon, nurses and doctors will be less involved in patient care in place of computers. This may inevitably increase the risks of hacking and data corruption. Which could delete decades of patient medical files. Or the theft of patients’ information for illegal activities. This then creates a legal battle as to who should take the blame for this theft. The hackers? Or the medical industry or not having the correct systems in place?
For the most part, technology has helped the healthcare industry, but for some, it is deemed as a slippery slope.