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How technology will advance nursing practice

Australian College of Nursing CEO Adjunct Professo
Photo: Australian College of Nursing CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward
Telehealth, mobile devices, applications, information and communication technologies. The rapidly evolving technological landscape is changing the way nurses maximise efficiency and deliver patient care, writes Karen Keast.


At the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS), nurses are using video calls to check on patients equipped with wireless tablet devices in their homes.

Through the Telstra Health-developed MyCareManager telehealth platform, nurses are able to watch older patients take their medicine or check their blood pressure.

In Queensland, Redcliffe Hospital has championed a dynamic mobile solution to boost staff efficiency and outpatient flow, eradicating paper-based processes while increasing data accuracy and putting an end to lengthy patient queues.
The hospital has introduced the MK4000 kiosk and Patient Automated Arrival System (PAAS) where patients scan a barcoded appointment letter to self-check in, swiping their Medicare or Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) cards. A map on the kiosk screen then points the patient to their clinic’s waiting room as the system informs staff of the patient’s arrival.

And at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, handheld computers and an hTrk application are being used in the operating theatre, cardiology and radiology departments, allowing medical equipment such as a stent or pacemaker to be tracked, traced and billed.

Nurses no longer manually record each item in a book. Instead, they scan a barcode on the item or its packaging before uploading the information to a central data store, which improves efficiency and accuracy as well as patient safety.

These are just a few examples of how technology is working to advance nursing practice in Australia.

Australian College of Nursing (ACN) CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward says nurses are embracing the uptake of a broad range of health care technology, from point of care solutions like mobile devices and tablets with barcoding for recording patient notes and accessing patient data through to advanced information systems.

“Years ago you would remember a nurse writing notes and on admission you had paper-based notes, which would mean that if you were in hospital for a couple of weeks and we had to write an allergy - you might have to re-write that allergy 10, 20, 30, 50 to 100 times on all sorts of paper,” she says.

“Now with technology and integrated communications systems you put it in the care plan on the entry to hospital, and it populates all of the way through to the discharge plan. There’s less room for error.”

With 25 years’ experience in nursing, health management, academia and nurse leadership, Adjunct Professor Ward says recent advancements in technology have catapulted the possibilities for health care providers.

Adjunct Professor Ward says the rollout of technology has a range of benefits for nurses, from improving the accuracy of data to boosting efficiency, which releases more time for nurses to care for their patients, and ultimately improves patient care and safety.

One device leading the charge in bolstering nurse efficiency is the Vocera communications badge.

The hands-free, wireless communication device is worn on the collar of nursing uniforms, enabling nurses to converse immediately with their colleagues, regardless of their location on the ward.

“It’s exceptional,” Adjunct Professor Ward says.

“Instead of nurses needing to run around and try and find each other or find a phone, nurses and other clinicians in the health team have their hands free and they can basically just lean over to their shoulder, speak, and find out where people are,” she says.

“Nurses can then gain time back and re-direct time to patient care. Patients benefit when the nurse is in the room, having a conversation, connecting, talking about concerns, educating the patient - having all of the connection that is essential and highly regarded for our profession and not sitting at the nurses’ station trying to enter in data.”

A range of apps are also enabling nurses to access the latest evidence-based research or education right at their fingertips. There are also apps that provide information about diseases, tests and drugs through to virtual patient simulators.

Nurses are not only utilising apps. They are also the innovators behind some of the apps that are changing patient care.

One such app is the Pain Squad gaming app. A Canadian nurse practitioner developed the app which enables paediatric cancer patients to keep a detailed record of their pain, which can then be shared with their team of health professionals.

While Australia is making progress in the introduction of health technology, Adjunct Professor Ward says there are some big ticket items, such as the implementation of a national electronic health records system, where the nation is lagging behind other countries including Denmark.

Adjunct Professor Ward says the revamped My Health Record, previously known as the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR), will be a major advantage to patients, nurses, other health professionals and health providers.

“I think that it is very important that we advocate for patients to have the right to hold onto all of their health information - it’s enabling, it’s empowering and it’s something that we should really be proactively pursuing as a nursing profession,” she says.

“Patients with chronic and complex conditions and comorbidities particularly, they know their diagnosis, they know their disease, they know their illness, so if there’s ever a need for them to approach a hospital or another health provider or a GP, say they’re on holidays or they’re travelling, they have to start all over again in giving their information.

“It is time consuming, it is a waste of resources, it has no benefit to the patient to be educating professionals that are not familiar with their condition.

“The ability to be able to hand over a My Health Record, where any clinician day or night can tap in and see the history and the management plan, will certainly have significant benefits - for the patients, the community and for health care in general, for better use of the health care dollar.”

With increasing demands on Australia’s health care sector, appropriate technological solutions are expected to play an integral role in advancing nurse practice, improving patient care and delivering better health outcomes.

Adjunct Professor Ward says developments in artificial intelligence, mobile and digital health will continue to reshape the way in which nurses practice and deliver patient care.

Nurses are leaders in change and must have a voice at the table in the policy space, not just the practice space, when it comes to rolling out new technology, she adds.

“For health care and aged care to reform, it will never happen without nurses leading the change,” she says.

“The biggest impediment is if we don’t really see the benefit of the change, if we’re not included in the decision-making or it adds time - not all change and not all technology is proven to be beneficial.

“Generally speaking, nurses embrace technology - we do in our personal lives as well as professionally,” Adjunct Professor Ward says.

“Anything that will help the patient and give nurses back time to spend with people is a good investment.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords