Will Nursing Be the Next Field Disrupted by Technology?

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By Krissy Goelz

Between the ongoing debate about U.S. healthcare reform, rising costs and an explosion of new technologies, what does the future hold for nursing?

Its a vital question. The nations millions of nurses are front-line caregivers; virtually anything that impacts healthcare impacts nursing, and vice-versa. Figuring out changes to the profession based on healthcare reform and cost cutting goes beyond our expertise. But technology? On that, weve got opinions!

Nurses will become the lynchpin of the patient/caregiver experience. To a great extent, this is already true. The shortage of primary care physicians, combined with the shift to out-of-office, at-home care means that nurses are increasingly the main interface between a patient and the healthcare they receive. Technology is both an enabler and a challenge as part of this brave new world: On the one hand, nurses have access to more information at their fingertips than ever before. On the other hand, those same technologies mean that nurses face more pressure than ever before to accurately record patient data and, often, help patients themselves master health technologies.

The growth of technology will create a whole new field. Nursing informatics combines nursing and information management skills to support and enhance patient care. Informatics nurses develop and improve systems for telemedicine, telehealth and telemonitoring. Nurses working in consumer health informatics assess patients needs for health information and treatments, conduct research on how to meet a patients need for health information and self-management of health issues, and integrate their preferences into information systems. Its a growing field with a lot of demand: The Bureau of Labor Statistics and HIMSS reports that the average salary in the nursing informatics field has risen substantially over the past several years.

Technology means caregivers are also, increasingly, coaches. Yesterdays nurse taught the time-tested methods of insulin injection, catheter insertion or other personal medical tasks. But today and even more so tomorrow nurses will be teaching patients how to download and use smartphone medical monitoring apps, or giving them a tour of their electronic health records. While the specialists in nursing informatics will be important in helping the healthcare establishment better connect new technologies with patients, nurses of all stripes will likely have to master the process of teaching these consumer-facing innovations.

Against all three of those trends is a fourth: Its all about the team. With medicine increasingly specialized, technology and teamwork are necessary to improve health outcomes. Nurses will be more mobile and, aided by technology, will be making care decisions in untraditional venues. For example, patients often need help deciphering complex medication regimens and in some cases nurse practitioners may help to simplify regimens. Nurses will need to coach patients and their care givers during transitions, easing the process from hospital to discharge, assessing them in their homes, and helping to coordinate home-based services. Here too, technology will play a growing role, as the rise of tablet-based and smartphone technologies for both patients and healthcare professionals are starting to show.

The common thread to all of these trends and predictions is easy to see: Technology will enable game-changing advances in patient care and healthcare administration. And nurses long the front-line caregivers will lead the way in this revolution,

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