Future of Technology in Nursing: How Tech Will Continue Improving Patient Care

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 A look into the future of technology in nursing.

Nurses help to administer life-saving medical care to patients across the country and the world on a daily basis. They also interact and communicate with patients to help ensure they feel comfortable and at ease during their health treatment. As such, medical expertise and a good bedside manner are crucial to a nurse’s success in this field.

Technology in nursing is also helping to drive medical professionals’ success. Advanced digital tools and devices facilitate a nurse’s job and help ensure that patients receive the best medical treatment possible. As technology has evolved throughout the decades, so has its application and importance in nursing. Nurses use and encourage various types of tech for treating patients, cataloging patient information, and maintaining positive health outcomes even after patients leave a healthcare facility.

Dive into how different types of nursing technology are revolutionizing healthcare.

Electronic Health Records

Electronic health records (EHRs) are portraits of an individual’s health history that are maintained and catalogued digitally. They help to ensure that practitioners comprehend the scope of a patient’s medical status and enable patients to understand their current health state.

History of Electronic Health Records

EHRs were first introduced to the healthcare field in the latter half of the 20th century alongside the development and evolution of computer technology. As an article published by the American Health Information Management Association describes, prior to 1992, some organizations used EHRs to assist with billing and scheduling, while others used them for medical care and research purposes.

One fundamental piece of legislation helped pave the way for EHRs to become a commonly accepted piece of medical and nursing technology: 1996’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. According to a textbook chapter available from Pearson, “[HIPAA] did not define an EHR, but perhaps the HIPAA Security Rule broadened the definition. The Security Rule established protection for all personally identifiable health information stored in electronic format. Thus, everything about a patient stored in a healthcare provider’s system is protected and treated as part of the patient’s EHR.”

Benefits of EHRs in healthcare.

Benefits of Electronic Health Records

EHRs bring numerous benefits as a nursing technology that helps both patients and providers.

A Holistic Portrait of a Person’s Health History

 If a patient visits a hospital with complaints of back pain, an attending physician may ask about their symptoms, evaluate their current physical condition, review the information in their health records, and make a diagnosis based on their findings.

However, if those health records contain incomplete or faulty information, the physician may make a misdiagnosis or not understand what is causing the patient’s back pain. An EHR that contains extensive data about a patient’s health history can include comments from previous physicians, past treatments or surgeries, medications currently and previously taken, notes about family health history, and other important information.

Fewer Errors and Less Red Tape

Numerous errors can result from a physician, nurse, patient, or other health professional using a health record that is not in an electronic format. A paper record may be easily damaged or lost in a conventional filing system, a record from one facility may not be fully interpreted or accessed by officials at another facility, and patients and professionals may input or misunderstand the information present in the records. EHRs help to alleviate these issues by offering a secure, convenient, and comprehensive method for storing a patient’s health info.

Additionally, EHRs can reduce the lengthy processes and red tape often associated with collecting and transferring healthcare records. With a paper record system, officials at one facility may have to wait an extended period of time for a patient’s records to arrive before treating that individual. With an EHR, that type of transfer can occur much faster. A patient who is curious to learn more about their health history can also access their EHR immediately rather than having to wait to hear back from a clinic or physician.

Mobile Functionalities 

Before the rise in popularity and application of EHRs as a technology in nursing, there were limited places where a patient could go to access their records, such as the clinic itself. The need to keep records secure and confidential also often meant that they were only able to be stored in one or a few locations. Today, with the advent of internet-enabled technology and mobile devices, that type of information can be securely and conveniently accessed from various areas. A person has the ability to access their EHR through a mobile app on their smartphone. They can review prescriptions and doctor’s notes via their laptops or personal computers. And information can be easily shared or transferred using mobile technology.

Challenges of Electronic Health Records

Despite the ease and flexibility of electronic health records, they are not without their drawbacks. Professionals have encountered issues in implementing and using EHRs in medical environments.

Different EHR Systems

A patient may visit a health clinic in their neighborhood and learn that they need to consult with a specialist at a state hospital many miles away. The state hospital staff may use an EHR system that is different from the smaller health clinic’s system, making it more difficult to transfer records efficiently.

The fact that there is not one fully integrated system or platform used by all health clinics and organizations can create more issues regarding red tape, even though EHRs are partly intended to help reduce such health and nursing technology issues. It can also mean that information isn’t properly transferred or collected and that staff and health officials are not fully trained on how to use multiple EHR systems.

Security and Privacy Concerns

EHRs are stored and secured digitally. While this has allowed for more convenient access and use by healthcare officials, the records and the confidential information they contain can be infiltrated, damaged, and exposed by individuals with nefarious intent.

Data breaches by hackers and digital criminals can expose confidential health information — such as a person’s medical history, address, or payment info — to a wide audience. Additionally, the fact that an EHR can be so widely accessible from multiple points raises concerns regarding patient privacy, even if the information is kept secure.

Future of Electronic Health Records

In an article published in HealthcareItNews, Carl Dvorak, president of healthcare software company Epic Systems, points to factors such as telemedicine and advanced analytics as future areas that will impact the development and evolution of electronic health records.

Genomics – the study of human genes and their functions – will also allow for a larger and more precise collection of specialized information about a patient’s health history. And telehealth, the burgeoning nursing and health technology field in which healthcare is administered and delivered remotely, can help to broaden the scope of EHRs and their efficient use in healthcare environments.

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

Electronic health records can help guide the type of treatment a patient should receive, as well as provide information about an individual’s health history. At the same time, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are impacting how nurses and practitioners deliver healthcare.

History of Robotics and AI in Nursing

The emergence of AI, where digital technology is used to perform tasks more efficiently and effectively than may have been achieved by a human, has already helped to revolutionize nursing technology and healthcare in general. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Because computers can instantly synthesize data from a wide variety of sources, AI has proven effective at enhancing clinical decision-making, recognizing patterns (predictive analytics), empowering student learning and faculty effectiveness, and harnessing the power of big data to improve the overall quality of healthcare services and educational activities.”

Types and Current Use of Robotics and AI in Nursing

Robotics have been employed across many areas of nursing and healthcare. In some clinics, “friendly” hospital robots have helped to assist stressed nurses. In surgical situations, robotic surgical and nursing technologies, such as the da Vinci Surgical System, have led to better patient outcomes.

Plus, AI is helping healthcare professionals to better sort through patient data and improve the accuracy of diagnoses. For example, AI can help analyze large data sets and determine if a particular condition is a result of a person’s own health or may be due to larger factors, such as a high number of recent outbreaks of disease in a given community or trends of poor dietary habits in certain populations.

How robotics and AI are improving nursing care.

Benefits of Robotics and AI in Nursing

Beyond being marvelous pieces of technology and innovation, robotics and AI in nursing enable a range of other benefits. They can assist in the delivery of healthcare services — such as providing tools and guidance in surgery — help to make recovery efforts more comfortable and successful, and potentially improve preventive care outcomes.

A Range of Healthcare Services

 AI algorithms that more efficiently and accurately sort through data to provide better diagnoses, robots that help clinicians perform medical tasks, and technology that helps nurses themselves feel more relaxed in their jobs are just a few of the far-reaching applications of AI and robotics.

Reduced Labor Costs

 The peer-to-peer, bedside component of a nurse’s role continues to make them invaluable in today’s medical landscape. However, AI and robotics can perform certain tasks commonly done by nurses and, in turn, reduce the overall costs of different types of care.

Enhanced Training

A key component of nursing is nurse education, where skilled and knowledgeable practitioners pass on their wisdom to the next generation of nurses. Robotics can facilitate training by enabling nursing students to practice certain procedures with a limited amount of risk compared with what they will eventually experience in the field.

Improved Patient Outcomes 

One of the largest benefits, and arguably the most important, of AI/robotics in nursing technology is improved patient outcomes. The da Vinci robot, for example, can perform more precise surgery to improve patient health and recovery. AI can also better determine certain diseases or afflictions a patient may be facing faster than other means.

Challenges of Robotics and AI in Nursing

Despite their benefits, robotics and AI also bring various concerns to nurses, patients, and healthcare professionals

Privacy Issues and Concerns

A patient who visits a health clinic, fills out an insurance form, or seeks to have a prescription refilled is providing health data. However, that patient may not know that AI tools are being used to evaluate that data as part of a larger collection or to better predict and reach health outcomes.

This lack of privacy can present challenges to patients who wish to better safeguard their personal health information. As healthcare environments become more reliant on technology, this issue will only become more difficult to address in the future.

Lack of Empathy When Treating Patients

AI and robotics haven’t evolved to the point — and may never get to that point — where they replace nurses entirely. Nursing technology provides many valuable benefits, but it can’t replace the humanistic, interpersonal relationship that a patient shares with their nurse.

Ethical and Legal Issues

If a healthcare practitioner, such as a doctor, performs their duties in a way that is inconsistent with professional and legal guidelines, they could face consequences, such as having their professional license revoked. However, if an AI data-mining algorithm or a nursing robotics tool produces a negative outcome or makes a mistake, it’s hard to tell how much blame can be placed on the robot versus their human peer.

Future of Robotics and AI in Nursing

According to an article from RN.com, “Despite these advancements, questions remain about whether the pricey new technology can actually deliver reliable and consistent results [in clinical settings]. Only time will tell … but in the meantime, nurses can prepare themselves for more innovative changes in the way care is delivered by embracing these new technologies.”

In short, advances in technology always spark a combination of advantages and challenges in healthcare. Ultimately, though, the benefits that robotics/AI bring as nursing technologies outweigh the drawbacks.

Robotics and AI in Nursing: Resources

Robotic and AI systems are now being utilized in hospitals around the world. Here are a few examples:

  • The DaVinci Surgical System was one of the first robotic surgical assistant systems. Launched in 1999, it’s not an autonomous robot; rather, it allows doctors to perform procedures with instruments that the doctor operates via a control panel.
  • Aethon’s TUG autonomous robot assists nurses and doctors by literally doing the heavy lifting; this robot was designed to move medical supplies and equipment around hospitals, freeing up medical staff to focus on caring for patients.

Deploying a robotics system in a hospital presents multiple challenges, and hospital administrators should understand the benefits and drawbacks. The National Institutes of Health provides this overview of the state of robotics in hospitals.

Wearable Devices

 Not every innovative nursing and healthcare technology has to be a state-of-the art, expensive piece of equipment or something that is only used or maintained by medical personnel. In fact, one of the most forward-looking pieces of healthcare tech is something that Americans use and wear daily.

History of Wearable Devices

A HealthSplash article notes that wearable technology was present in older pieces of tech such as the wristwatch and the Sony Walkman. Hearing aids, despite being around for decades, can also be considered wearable technology. And Life Alert and other emergency health devices have existed for many years as well.

Types and Current Use of Wearable Devices

While wearable technology has evolved throughout the 21st century, Fitbits and Apple Watches gained widespread popularity in the 2010s. These devices perform an array of healthcare tasks — such as monitoring an individual’s blood pressure, providing data on how much exercise or aerobic activity a person has performed in a day, and alerting a person if their vitals indicate a certain type of disease or condition — and can effectively relay health information to practitioners and other health organizations.

Benefits of Wearable Devices

Wearable devices provide numerous benefits to their owners. These range from immediate results to more long-term advantages.

A Remote Snapshot of a Person’s Health

 A person who uses a piece of wearable technology can easily determine if their heart rate or even blood pressure is above a normal level or if they may require treatment for a certain type of health affliction. Instead of having to visit a doctor to check their vital signs, a wearable can enable its owner to check their heart rate and blood pressure, and check with a doctor if that information is a concern.

Improved Patient Outcomes and Fewer Primary Care Visits

Wearables are a valuable piece of nursing technology that can assist in determining if a person is experiencing a negative health issue before it grows into something that isn’t as easily manageable. This leads to fewer healthcare visits by patients and less time and effort spent by practitioners that could be used on individuals who require immediate attention.

Monitoring Patients from Afar

An elderly individual’s family may be concerned that their loved one is unsafe living on their own or that the individual may suffer a health issue when nobody is around to help. Wearables allow families to keep track of a person’s extended health status, even if they are far away.

Challenges of Wearable Devices

 Despite their benefits, wearables are not always perfect. In fact, they can cause several issues among patients. They may collect a wide range of health data that consumers may not be comfortable with, there may be inaccurate information or misinterpretations of the data collected and presented by wearables, and individuals and families may not be able to afford the devices.

Issues with Price and Technology

An Apple Watch can cost several hundred dollars. While Fitbits, a type of health/nursing technology, are generally not as expensive, they can still be a significant financial cost. While the cost of a wearable health tracking device can be prohibitive, some insurance companies are offering policy incentives and discounts to policy holders who wear them.

Privacy Concerns

Wearable technology manufacturers could make large sums of money by selling individuals’ health data to insurance companies, an article published in ZDNet points out. The customers, in turn, may be wary of giving their data to those devices or using them in the first place. Additionally, the article notes that because insurance providers often require patient data to not be anonymized, it may be difficult for analysts to interpret data collected from the devices to find insights that can help to benefit the greater good.

Accuracy/Misinterpretation Concerns

 An article published in PLOS Medicine notes, “Recent comparisons between various wearables for tracking physical activity showed large variations in accuracy between different devices — with error margins of up to 25%.” The article also highlights that wearables can become compromised by cyber attackers, similar to how medical devices such as glucose pumps have been compromised, displaying inaccurate information as a result. For medical professionals who may look to incorporate data from a patient’s wearable device, this could cause problems with proper diagnosis and treatment.

Future of Wearable Devices

Wearable devices have been projected to advance as far as, for example, Google Glass goggles providing a better understanding of how to perform surgery or helping children with autism to better communicate in class. Wearables are also being tested on athletes to measure electrolyte loss, among other things, and are continuing to help improve heart disease and other conditions.

Despite the challenges that this technology may face, the potential for wearables is vast. Professionals who understand the technology’s full scope and its applications will be best suited for helping patients.

Sources:
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Rounds With Leadership: Artificial Intelligence”
American Health Information Management Association, “EHR Evolution: Policy and Legislation Forces Changing the EHR
HealthcareITNews, “Next-Gen EHRs: Epic, Allscripts and Others Reveal Future of Electronic Health Records”
Pearson, “History and Evolution of Electronic Health Records”
PLOS Medicine, “The Rise of Consumer Health Wearables: Promises and Barriers”
RN.com, “Robots in Healthcare: What’s in Store for the Future?”
ZDNet, “Why Your Smartwatch and Wearable Devices Are the Next Big Privacy Nightmare”