Great strides are being made in the use of advanced technologies to complement the work of nurses, but with the wave of innovation has come a fear among some of keeping up with the pace of change.
Those at the vanguard of technological transformation are no longer necessarily in bunkers dressed in hoodies. In the health sector, they are also at the bedside and in medical practices administering best quality care.
Integrated electronic health records, apps, wearables, artificial intelligence, 3D printers, telemedicine, genomics and robots are being absorbed into clinical environments with greater frequency, placing pressure on healthcare workers to be experts on the accelerating revolution.
According to James Cook University’s Dr. Narelle Biedermann, such was the demand, which resulted in the tailoring of the JCU Online Master of Nursing degree to demystify health tech developments and adding the study of health informatics.
“Students entered the subject voicing their fears about what they saw as the very rapid advances in technology in both the clinical and education contexts. Many expressed feeling lost and frightened of technology in healthcare,” Biedermann said.
“When this education is available and delivered in a safe, non-judgmental context, nurses have the opportunity to see the value of advances in healthcare technology and informatics.”
The benefits can flow beyond individuals to position nursing at the forefront of delivering best quality, tech-fueled care.
In an Australian first, researchers from James Cook University and Townsville Hospital and Health service are conducting two studies around Pepper, a social humanoid robot, in an acute setting.
The first study is a proof of concept, in which Pepper was deployed as a concierge at Townsville Hospital, interacting with patients in the short-stay unit and answering simple questions such as what to do if they felt unwell or where to find food and drink. In the second study, the team is testing the effectiveness of Pepper in providing health information, particularly about flu vaccinations.
Pepper uses voice, gestures and eye contact to communicate, and has a touchscreen that patients can use to ask questions or get information. Early evidence shows a high level of engagement from patients, visitors and staff, according to James Cook University’s Professor of Nursing and Midwifery Cate Nagle, who is leading the study.
“There will always be a need for a human element in patient care, but robots like Pepper are increasingly showing their capacity for complementing the efforts of healthcare workers. I imagine that many of the simple and repetitive tasks will more commonly be performed by machines,” Nagle said.
With the demand for nurses high and continuing to grow, technologies can help fill the gap. In a 2014 report, Health Workforce Australia estimated there would be a national shortfall of 85,000 nurses by 2025.
“Robots will become increasingly sophisticated and able to provide a vast array of health information and health promotion. This will free up nurses’ time to improve the patient’s experience of care,” Nagle said.
Beyond Pepper, the future has arrived, and game-changing technologies are infiltrating Australian primary care, bringing with them meaningful benefits for patients.
Genomics – once only available to large-scale, well-funded research projects – is progressively making its way into diagnosis and treatment.
In intensive care units, where rapid results are vital, a national study established with the support of Australian Genomics, the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network and the Garvan Institute is providing rapid genomic testing for 250 babies and children.
Tests typically take three to four months, but the Acute Care study is delivering diagnostic reports in three days on average in neonatal and pediatric intensive care units to aid diagnosis and critical clinical decision-making.
Only a few centres worldwide currently offer rapid genomic testing, and the Australian team is breaking new ground in precision medicine at a national level.
For nurses and other healthcare workers, these tech developments will soon be fundamentally ingrained in their work.
“The proliferation of analytics, informatics and technology will require nurses to have additional knowledge and skills in the interpretation and application of information and to explain such advancements to patients,” Nagle said.
“There will also be an avalanche of information available to nurses, and their skills in managing data, critically appraising the information and applying the evidence will need to be highly developed and efficient.”
Technical knowledge will also ensure that nurses are key in the design and evaluation of innovations.
“Technology and technical advances are ubiquitous. Nurses are the majority of the healthcare workforce and the only health professionals working in hospitals 24 hours a day,” Nagle said.
“Nurses have much to offer in the design of technologies, given their professional knowledge and skills, and are also important as they provide feedback in the design and evaluation phases of piloting innovations.”
Their role in the development and integration of best practice and useable technologies throughout the healthcare sector will therefore, be vital. And nurses who broaden their tech-savvy skill sets, job prospects and leadership potential will also inevitably grow.
James Cook University offers three 100% online postgraduate courses allowing further education to be completed whilst working full time – including the Master of Nursing.