The Future of Nurses: Superheroes Aided By Technology
Being a nurse is a highly demanding, but genuinely fulfilling job with the chance to touch many people’s lives. As it requires the core of what makes us human – paying attention, being empathetic and caring -, it will never be replaced by technology. However, innovations can relieve nurses of the burden of many monotonous and repetitive tasks. Let’s see how technology supports the future of nurses!
The power of nurses
Clarissa, S.S. visits newborn babies and their mothers every week in the second district of Budapest. She checks moms’ and their babies’ medical status, answers queries and eases anxieties about early motherhood. After getting to know the new moms, she becomes much more than their nurse – she’s their confidante. At the beginning of January 2018, on a chilly Saturday morning, Odette, a mom suffering from postpartum depression called Clarissa, telling her that she went dry and cannot breastfeed her little boy. Odette was scared, crying, but her nurse kept talking to her for hours. By the end they hung up the phone, the mother was relaxed, and she was not thinking about all her perceived failing motherhood skills but rather how everything’s going to end up alright. The next day, she had so much milk that she could not keep up with the flow.
Nurses are magic. They are the thousand-handed gods and goddesses in any hospital and medical practice. Sometimes, at the end of a 12-hour-shift, they might be grumpy, but who would be all cheerful looking at the list of their tasks. They assist doctors with medical procedures, prepare patients for surgeries, provide post-operative care, check vital signs, draw blood, give medications, check IV’s, carry out administrative duties, cooperate with physicians in rehabilitation and prevention tasks, help bedridden patients maintain their hygiene, distribute hospital food, clean and disinfect medical devices.
Moreover, as the above illustration shows, they carry out their duties with empathy and care. They are the hosts of any medical facility taking care of the well-being of their ‘guests’ as well as other members of the personnel. It’s an incredibly demanding job, and it’s uplifting to see how technology has finally come to their aid. Here are the most promising examples!
1) With robotics to cut back on monotonous tasks
Medication management, disinfection, carrying medical devices from A to B, lifting bedridden patients, navigating and greeting patients and relatives in the hospital are all tasks that robots could support.
The robust TUG robot and the streamlined RoboCourier make the in-hospital transport of medical devices, drugs, laboratory specimens or sensitive supplies easier. They can carry around a multitude of racks, carts or bins working around the clock. Both could enable nurses to spend more times with their patients instead of running up and down the building floors. The Xenex Robot might help nurses keep up the highest level of hygiene. It allows for fast and effective systematic disinfection of any space within a healthcare facility.
Beyond robots supporting nurses in soulless tasks, there are several innovations which help them handling patients in more difficult situations. The bear-shaped RoBear robot can lift and move patients in and out of bed into wheelchairs, help patients stand, and turn them to prevent bed sores. Certain robot companions can keep company to people feeling lonely or help treat mental health issues. Jibo, Pepper, Paro, Dinsow, and Buddy are all remarkable examples. Paro is shaped like a baby seal, and it is especially cute and cuddly to help release stress and ease sadness and solitude. Pepper, the 1.2-meter tall humanoid “social robot” is also “employed” as a receptionist in two Belgian hospitals.
2) With telemedicine to reach isolated communities
With the advancement of technology, the practice of counseling patients over the phone turned into the practice of telehealth. That’s the most effective tool to treat minor illnesses, reaching remote patients, or in cases when the patient is unable to leave their home due to illness or transportation issues.
Telehealth nursing care is possible both in emergency and non-emergency situations. In the former, nurses from around the world can participate in telephone triage set-ups. Moreover, nurses can monitor a patient’s oxygen levels, heart rate, respiration, blood glucose and more. In non-emergency situations, nurses can get their patients’ blood pressure readings or glucose readings, for instance. They can also instruct patients as to how to dress a wound or treat a minor burn.
Telehealth companies, such as GreatCall are gaining ground and offering their services to more and more patients.
3) Drawing blood with technology
More often than not, the process of taking blood is a pain-point for both patients and nurses. People usually dislike needles, while sometimes nurses or phlebotomists suffer for long and miserable moments until finding the appropriate vein. Innovative blood-drawing robots like Veebot or vein scanners such as VeinViewer or AccuVein could offer some help. In case of blood drawing robots, these skillful machines reduce the whole process to about a minute, and tests show that they can correctly identify the best vein with approximately 83% accuracy.
Moreover, hand-held vein scanners use AR technology to make both nurses’ and patients’ lives easier. For example, AccuVein projects the veins of patients over the skin via AR showing nurses and doctors where the capillaries are. It has been used on more than 10 million patients and makes the finding of blood vessels on the first stick 3.5-times more likely. Their cheap, 3D printable versions have also been introduced to the market to help out nurses and doctors in countries in need. Alex Stanciu, a military-automotive engineer, has designed such a 3D printable vein finder.
4) Explaining complicated medical language with 3D printing
Finger splints, organ models, personalized plaster casts, prosthetic parts, even biomaterials, food and, in the future, organs – there are amazing things we can already 3D print in healthcare. Several of these innovations could definitely improve nurses’ job.
For example, nurses who are responsible for explaining medical procedures and critical aftercare to patients may find that 3-D printers give them access to tools that significantly improve the process. An exact model of body parts and organs can serve as an invaluable tool for enhancing communications between patients and the caregivers who serve them. Japanese researchers experiment with printing out ‘caring tools’. For example, cutting out plasters in fun shapes — such as animals — with a laser cutter helps patients overcome the negative perception of surgical tape. Alternatively, 3D printing food could ease the process of feeding patients. For example, Biozoon prints out gourmet-looking food for seniors who need to eat purified meals – which could also be used in hospitals in the future.
Sometimes, nursing students themselves take initiative to help patients via 3D printing. Graduating nursing students from Caldwell University have developed a unique pillbox for HIV/AIDS patients who need to swallow several pills a day but don’t want to be always asked about it. It’s the meeting point of nursing care, technology, and innovation – and we hope to see more of it in the future!
5) Portable diagnostics for improved patient care
The appearance of pocket-sized, user-friendly and portable diagnostic devices make it easier and faster for nurses to care for a patient. Measuring health parameters and vital signs will be reduced to minutes, and massive, oversized machines for an ultrasound, ECG or laboratory testing will become things of the past. Moreover, researchers found that portable ultrasonography can reduce the frequency of urinary catheterization, help guide insertion of peripheral IV lines, minimizes radiation exposure during medical imaging, and overall saves time and fastens the diagnostic procedure.
Portable ultrasound technology, such as Philips Lumify, SonoSite’s or Clarius’ hand-held products allow any nurse to get around patients faster and easier, not to speak about the excellent whole body imaging device, Butterfly IQ.
6) With Artificial Intelligence against cumbersome tasks
Artificial Intelligence has the potential to highly optimize processes in hospitals, cut down on administrative duties or decrease the frequency of repetitive phenomena based on analyzing vast data sets, connecting the dots and making predictions. By enhancing efficiency, A.I. will immensely benefit nurses.
For example, one of the many projects as part of the three-year partnership between University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and the Alan Turing Institute aims to identify patients who are likely to fail to attend appointments. A consultant neurologist at the hospital, Parashkev Nachev, has used data including factors such as age, address and weather conditions to predict with 85% accuracy whether a patient will turn up for outpatient clinics and MRI scans. Imagine how useful that could be for nurses who have to prepare for patients’ visits no matter whether they show up! In addition, the project aims to reduce waiting time for patients in the emergency room – which might also mean streamlining processes and freeing up some time for nurses. Thumbs up, A.I.!
7) With virtual reality for education and alleviating pain
Medical education, surgery, rehabilitation medicine, psychiatry, and psychology could all benefit from VR, and the field of nursing care could reap the fruits of the technology, too.
Virtual simulations could support the training phase of nurses, preparing them for emergency situations such as a cardiac arrest. For example, the Miami Children’s Hospital is using virtual technology to train employees on procedures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, nasal gastric tube insertion, starting an IV, wound care and others. They may use a similar platform as Virtual Education Systems’ VR training systems; new nurses can train with interactive patients in-hospital simulations making critical decisions in real-time.
Moreover, virtual reality could become a great tool for nurses to alleviate chronic pain for patients. Brennan Spiegel and his team at the Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles introduced VR worlds to their patients, and the Healthy Mind start-up founded by three students in France did the same to enable people to manage pain without drugs.
8) With chatbots, small robots or digital pills for better medication management
Chatbots have a bright future in healthcare: they help better organize patient pathways, make medication management more efficient, help in emergency situations or with first aid, or offer a solution for simpler medical issues. All these features make chatbots the future best friends of nurses. For example, Florence is an electronic “personal nurse” in the color blue. “She” can remind patients to take their pills, which might be a handy feature for older patients.
However, there are also robotic solutions for medication management. The Catalia Health Platform offers the cute robot, Mabu, for patients and it does not only set reminders for when to swallow their drugs, but also provides insights for healthcare providers. Sometimes, compliance starts with the drug itself, however. Nurses have to get used to the fact that digital pills already exist, and the FDA previously approved the first one for patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
9) Is the future about smart alarms?
Hospitals and other medical facilities are surrounded by the cacophony of constant beeps and alarms – most of them keeping the nurses constantly busy checking patient rooms. Often, the signals are false, which ends up causing “alarm fatigue,” as this article refers to it. It also takes the nursing staff’s attention away from more pressing patient matters. A smart alarm technology could combat the problem by better monitoring a variety of patient vital signs all through one system, including blood pressure, pulse rate, etc.
The development of such a “smart” alarm system might be a future story, but I hope nurses will be on the innovation team to definitely have their voices heard. Being nurse-friendly should be the first trait of any hospital alarm system.
Both nursing jobs and robots will stay
Although there are many fears around A.I., robots, and automation, in general, taking jobs in healthcare, statistics show that nursing is a field with constant employment growth, and the demand for nurses will continue to increase in the future, especially as global populations continue to age in conjunction with a rapidly expanding healthcare industry.
As nursing care requires refined social skills, high level of empathy and emotional intelligence, robots or smart algorithms aren’t likely to fill up the field any time soon. However, as the demand for nurses will rise, there will be parts of the job augmented by technologies from chatbots through 3D-printing until VR. Nurses could benefit a lot from technology as it might make their tasks less cumbersome, more creative and it might free up some of their time.
That’s why Richard Booth, an assistant professor at the Arthur Labatt Family school of nursing in London, argues that if nurses don’t start understanding this technology and participating in its development and implementation, the profession and the best interests of patients will suffer. Not only The Medical Futurist but also policy-makers in the UK agree. The NHS started its digital nurse fellowship program, and The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) “Every nurse an e-nurse” wants every UK nurse to be an e-nurse by 2020. Encouraging nurses to go techier is undoubtedly a noble objective – we hope many more nursing schools and public hospitals find inspiration in these campaigns!
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- News shaping the future of healthcare
- Advice on taking charge of your health
- Reviews of the latest health technology