Expanding roles

The rise of nurses in health IT
Tools

By Katie Dvorak

For some time now, nurses have used technology to perform their day-to-day jobs, and the impact IT has on their work is only expected to increase as new technologies emerge.

"The whole host of tools that nurses and physicians use has made their jobs easier, smarter and better," Jean Coates (pictured right), CNIO at Catholic Health Initiatives in Baltimore, notes.  

Coates says she envisions there will be more integration of data into medical records--records that will be accepted in not just one hospital but perhaps by many. She says there will be more cases of a single record that can follow a patient from facility to facility, enabling "multiple providers to look at that patient's data and to treat patients."

"I think we've got a whole lot of very exciting things that we can bring in terms of technology," Coates says. "I think it's just working with a lot of brilliant people to imagine and develop these technologies."

According to Theresa Meadows (pictured left), CIO at Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas, technology also will offer more opportunities to help nurses care for patients. Even small things, such as automating processes that are currently manual, can make a difference.

"For example, technology is being developed that allows vital sign information to go into medical records without a nurse having to physically document it," Meadows says. "This turns the nurse into more of an analysis point."

In addition, Meadows says, technology will help improve the workflow for nurses and will provide more data in real-time.

"I think there are a million things we can do with technology to help nursing specifically," she says.

At the same time, nurses should also brace for changes to their training and education, says Patricia Sengstack (pictured right), CNIO at Bon Secours Health System in Marriottsville, Maryland. Sengstack, who also teaches nursing informatics classes at Vanderbilt University, says that nurses will need more training to master new technology.

"I think our universities are going to be challenged to keep up," she says.

For her classes, Sengstack says she has to add new content every year to ensure that her students are trained in using the most current technologies.

Meanwhile, to attract the right talent, healthcare facilities also will have to keep an eye on the latest technological developments, says Jean Coates, CNIO at Catholic Health Initiatives in Baltimore.

"We have some very smart, savvy young people out there who have grown up on technology and who expect to work with technology," Coates says. "I believe that's a national norm."

Coates adds that she "absolutely" sees more roles for nurses in health IT leadership positions going forward.

"Looking at the future, it's going to be a wild ride," she says.

Sengstack agrees, adding that nurses should embrace the changes ahead.

"Don't be afraid to take on things that you don't know 100 percent how they're going to turn out," Sengstack says. "I think there's plenty of innovative opportunity."