Today’s healthcare landscape looks very different than it did a few decades ago. Nurses especially are facing a transforming environment, from the amount of time they spend with patients to the kind of care they are allowed to provide. This article will explore some of the ways that technology and legislation are changing the face of the field of medicine and how this impacts patient care.
Technology is one of the areas in healthcare that is changing the most. It is astonishing how much has changed over a relatively short period of time. A few decades ago, nearly everything was done by hand in a doctor’s office. They kept track of medical records primarily via hand and wrote out paper prescriptions that patients then took to the pharmacy of their choice. They were also typically given handwritten or, in some areas, printed aftercare instructions to ensure they understood how to improve and maintain their health.
Today, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The majority of communication with patients outside of visits is done online. Sometimes even the visit itself takes place online, made possible by the advent of video calls. In this section, we’ll explore some of the ways in which technology is revolutionizing the field of nursing as well as explain why these advances are important to patient care.
Why is nursing technology important?
There are a few reasons why technology is so important to the healthcare industry. One of the driving factors behind introducing technology to the medical process is that there is a lack of nursing staff. This is a known issue in the United States and is due to a number of factors, the biggest of which is the mass retirement of baby boomers across the country. A field of retiring nurses and a recent deficit in newly trained nurses has meant that healthcare facilities are frequently understaffed. Technology can help mitigate the effects of this by making nursing more efficient. This increase in efficiency often improves conditions for working nurses, and this improvement is reflected in data that suggests the understaffing problem is poised to get better in the future. As the nursing industry grows and technology improves working conditions, the problem of understaffing will be mitigated.
Here are some specific ways that technology is improving the healthcare field.
Digital records, prescriptions, and round-the-clock communication
The first way in which nurses are using new technology to help enhance the care their patients receive is via electronic medical records. Also known as EMRs, electronic records make it simple for nurses to update health information in real-time as they interact with patients. These medical interfaces typically have the functionality to search for information about medications and symptoms while nurses are in the room with their patients, making comprehensive care for patients easier than ever. From the moment patients reach out for an initial appointment, technology makes it easier to provide high-quality care.
Online patient portals
Patient portals are another area where technology is having a big impact on the medical field. As we mentioned above, a few decades in the past, almost all record-keeping in healthcare was done by hand. Nurses and doctors hand-wrote important patient information and stored it in a paper file that they used whenever the patient visited them or was in need of help. Even more notable, patients would need to request this information from their doctor’s office in order to see another doctor. Today, all of this can be done online, with increasing numbers of healthcare providers utilizing online patient portals. Not only do these portals help patients reach out with questions, but they also typically grant patients access to their medical history, including exam results, test results, and prescription history.
Yet another area where technology is changing the face of medicine is education. Both nurses and patients have access to more educational opportunities online than ever before, which makes both studying to become a nurse and understanding important information about health conditions easier. Improvements in education allow nurses to ensure that patients have a good understanding of what they need to do once they leave the office. This is especially helpful in situations such as post-surgical care, when patients are discharged but still must keep a close eye on their symptoms and, if applicable, surgical sites.
Online studying and training also make it easier for nurses to complete training courses and enter the workforce with their important skills already mastered. Not only does this give the nurse more competency and confidence, but it also ensures that they provide high-quality care from day one.
All in all, technology is constantly changing and typically makes life easier for nurses, physicians, and patients, along with many of the other medical professionals involved in ensuring the system runs smoothly.
Robotics in healthcare
Before we move on, it would be remiss not to talk about robotic technology in the healthcare industry. This is an area where patients and nurses alike benefit from advanced technology designed to make healthcare easier, safer, and more effective for everyone involved. In this section, we’ll dive a little deeper into the world of robotics in healthcare and how they are impacting the way nurses do their jobs.
One of the surprising areas where robots are making a difference in nurses’ lives is storage. If you’ve ever opened up a medical supply closet where nurses pull important items to care for their patients, you might have seen a chaotic and seemingly unorganized mess. The chaos is controlled, however, and nurses typically know where to find everything they need without a second glance, as long as the closet is kept somewhat organized. Sometimes, nurses simply don’t have the time to organize everything on their own, especially as they spend more time with patients face-to-face.
Robots can take care of storage organizations and keep tabs on inventory so that nurses can easily check a supply list if something they need is missing and locate the item quickly. Robotic technology can also bring nurses items that they need instead of nurses leaving their patients to collect them manually. This is not yet implemented everywhere but the technology is primed to make nurses’ jobs a lot easier in the near future.
Nurses spend a lot of time cleaning. This might come as a surprise to many since the common perception of a nurse is someone who spends a lot of time treating patients. However, they are often responsible for cleaning up rooms and ensuring that the environment is safe and clean for patients, their loved ones, and themselves. Thorough cleaning can often take quite some time, however, and every second nurses spend cleaning is one less moment they have free to interact with patients directly.
Robotics is changing the way that nurses clean. Some robots can actually scan an area for debris and other bodily matter so that nurses not only understand what kind of cleaners they should be using but also where they most need to focus their efforts. This optimizes the cleaning process and allows nurses to breeze through this part of their job so that they can work more closely with their patients.
Certain kinds of robots are also making cleaning a bit easier by taking care of the tasks themselves. Disinfection is often done robotically, for example, as robots have the ability to measure the cleanliness of items and aren’t under time constraints the way nurses and other medical staff are.
Legislation has a direct impact on nursing in a few different ways and can affect the extent of care nurses are allowed to provide, where they are allowed to provide it, and the way they are allowed to interact with patients. In this section, we will explore some of the ways that legislation and politics impact nursing and how they affect the quality of care patients receive.
Legislation has a significant impact on nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are currently critically important in the medical field. Family nurse practitioners in particular often fill the role of primary care providers for patients. Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) are professionals who work with patients of all ages. If you’re familiar with the idea of visiting a doctor when you aren’t feeling well or need an annual exam, you’re familiar with the work that FNPs do.
In the not-so-distant past, NPs in general were rather limited in the care they provided. Today, they are allowed in many states to prescribe certain kinds of medications and carry out various types of physical testing, but that isn’t always the case.
In the past, the primary roles of NPs have been interacting with patients on a more detailed level than registered nurses and giving them advice about common health conditions. They also served as an intermediary between patients and physicians.
NPs today still do all of the above but with a lot of added responsibility. They weren’t always considered primary care providers, for example, but rather in-between providers when patients couldn’t see a physician. Today’s NPs are allowed to offer more of their expertise to patients via primary care. This is especially apparent with FNPs, who must master many different skills and have a basic understanding of many different kinds of health issues.
From conducting annual exams to prescribing medication when necessary, NPs have come a long way, and legislation is being passed all the time that grants even more power to effectively manage their patients’ health.
Access to care
Legislation also impacts who can access care and what kind of care they can receive. In certain areas, legislation might prohibit nurses from providing medical care to individuals with certain beliefs or medical conditions. Even beyond that, legislation can make it much more difficult for patients to reach out to physicians directly and receive the care they need to recover and thrive.
Let’s say that legislation is passed that makes it illegal to remotely care for patients in rural communities. The obvious consequence is that patient care worsens dramatically, and it becomes more difficult for patients to seek care. Luckily, most legislation is moving in the opposite direction and making it easier for patients to receive care even when they can’t see a healthcare professional face-to-face, but the example holds true for all manner of legislation. Preventing patients from seeing a specialist without a referral, for example, means that patients must wait for their primary care providers to approve their request for more specialized care—and if they don’t approve the referral, patients have limited options available to them.
With all of the above said, it is important to note that these examples are extreme and that healthcare legislation is, in large part, actively improving the patient experience. Not all legislation makes accessing and providing healthcare difficult. As noted above, sometimes it makes it easier for nurses to provide more detailed care throughout their days, ensuring that patients always have access to an effective provider.
Lowered medical costs
One important area where legislation can have a positive impact on patients and nurses is lowered healthcare costs. Paying less for healthcare removes a barrier to effective care and makes it easier for patients to seek preventative help as well as to maintain their health as they age. For nurses, this translates to less complicated medical conditions to care for as patients increasingly have access to regular medical care.
More places to work
Finally, the last point we’ll make about how legislation impacts healthcare is where patients can seek care and where nurses and NPs are allowed to work. So, where do family nurse practitioners work? Nurse practitioners of all disciplines, thanks to improvements in legislation, education, and training, can now work in a wide variety of settings, including rural health clinics, acute and urgent care clinics, community centers, schools, and hospitals. With a good education from an accredited institution, family nurse practitioners have a wealth of choice when it comes to where they wish to practice. Texas Woman’s University offers an Online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program in which nurses will learn all the skills they need to qualify as an FNP and go on to work in any number of healthcare settings. The program includes a clinical placement, organized by the university, that gives nurses the opportunity to practice in the field as part of their education.
Until recently, NPs were restricted when picking facilities in which to work. Today, the only barrier preventing family nurse practitioners from working anywhere they please is education. Students who receive the best education are able to find work in many different niches helping many different kinds of people. Comprehensive degree programs, such as the one offered by Texas Woman’s University, prepare nurses for a long and effective career in the medical industry.
As the work nurses do is streamlined and affords them more time to study and continue their education, the number of opportunities for growth is increasing. Many nurses are able to pursue continuing skills and knowledge expansion to better improve the care they provide. Improved skills and knowledge, in turn, lead to different jobs with complex responsibilities in niches where nurses want to transition. Legislation and technology make it easier for nurses to thrive, which means that they are better able to help patients.
What do you think about the impact technology and legislation have on nursing? If you’d like to enter the field, keep the information above in mind and look for universities with a proven history of producing effective and successful nurses. You’ll be helping the people around you thrive in no time!