Technology and the Bedside Nurse.

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We live in a world where technology has become a very important part of people’s lives. Many people have become dependent on high tech gadgets to get through their daily routines. From smartphones to robotic household cleaners and personal assistants (Can anyone say “Hey Alexa”), society is immersed in technology.

 But, have we reached a stage where technology has replaced important human interactions? Like texting, instead of talking to people. I mean who really uses their phone to just talk these days? Or having hundreds, maybe even thousands, of online followers instead of real-life friends.

How has this immersion of technology in society affected the world of healthcare? More specifically, has technology affected the way nurses interact with their patients?

Technology and Nursing

The world of nursing is not immune to the effects of modern technology. There is no question that technological advances have made a huge impact on healthcare with increased patient safety. There is more accuracy in patient charting, better medical equipment and new ways to track patients and their medical diagnoses. Teletracking devices have made it easier to monitor patients and detect breakdowns in patient flow. Patient monitoring equipment such as cardiac monitors, infusion pumps, and hospital beds all come equipped with more sensitive alarms and advanced software. They have new features to ensure patient safety and detect any subtle changes in the patient’s status.

But, has technology changed the human interaction between the patient and the nurse?

The Bedside Nurse

Nurses are taught from early in their career that they have to be empathetic to the patient’s needs. They take a holistic approach to patient care. They make sure that both the physical and psychological needs of the patient are met. This is why nurses are often the patient’s best advocate. Click here to read my article on why nursing is a great career choice.

Nurses are in a profession that requires them to have a personal interaction with other human beings on a daily basis. They have a moral obligation to treat patients with dignity and respect. Nurses are a part of some of the worst days in a person’s life – imagine getting a diagnosis for a terminal illness. And nurses can also be a part of one of the best days of a person’s life –like the birth of a long-awaited newborn. But it seems,  just like a lot of other areas in society, technology has affected the way that nurses interact with their patients. So are we as nurses less personable around our patients because of the advances in technology?

Having a Personal Connection

Now, when I say less personable, I don’t mean that nurses are cold, or unsympathetic. In fact, nurses care very deeply for their patients and their needs. Many feel guilty that they just don’t have the time to spend talking with patients. So is there less of a personal connection than there was before.

I have personally worked with many nurses in the intensive care unit who say they prefer to care for a sedated patient than to care for an alert and talkative one. A lot of other issues could be at play here, including the fact that this is a personal preference for personal reasons.  There could be staffing issues, experience or the level of skill that the nurse possesses. But it could also likely be due to the excessive amount of charting that has to be done in the patient’s electronic medical record. And incidentally, a lot of facilities wants these nursing notes recorded as soon as possible.

The goal for most healthcare facilities is for the nurse to chart in real-time. So as soon as something happens, or an activity is completed, it should be charted. This means that the nurse is charting all day long in a 12-hour shift. This also means spending less time interacting with patients.

Then and Now

Picture an admission assessment being done about ten (maybe fifteen) years ago. The nurse would sit (or stand) in the patient’s room and go over the patient’s history and physical using paper charting. The nurse would make eye contact with the patient, and even have a comfortable rapport and a light conversation between interview questions. (Being that I have been a nurse for about fifteen years, I can attest that yes, this did happen).

Fast forward to the present and picture how an admission interview might be done today. The nurse walks into the room and greets the patient, then logs on to the computer so they can pull up the patient’s information. Let me point out that the computers are usually located on the wall opposite the hospital bed which means that the patient only gets to look at the nurse’s back while they type away. Even when the nurse is facing the patient using the portable computer on wheels, they are still staring at the computer screen more than they get to look at the patient. So now there is very minimal eye contact between the patient and the nurse. This can lead to distrust by the patient and family.

The Future

Technology has led to huge developments and improvements in medicine and healthcare. However, in the area of nursing, we should all strive to keep the patient-nurse relationship. This relationship has always been an important part of the nursing role.

Remember that just taking two minutes out of your day to really speak to a patient like they are a person and not a note on a computer screen, can really make a difference in someone’s life.