Terry Hayes

A patient’s advocate: Nurses and technology

By Terry Hayes  /  07 Apr 2016

It’s easy for patients to feel lost in our healthcare system. Between multiple doctors, nurses in and out of exam rooms, tests, re-tests, a handful of prescriptions—not to mention the complex web of how to actually pay for care—patients can feel like they’re caught in a convoluted situation, with rules they don’t understand.

Patients shouldn’t have to feel this way. They should feel empowered to ask questions, express preferences on treatments and costs, and request their caregivers take time to explain a procedure. Of all of the care team members, nurses play the biggest role in making sure patients have a strong voice to be their own advocates in our complicated healthcare system.

I became a nurse practitioner because my passion is caring for people and advocating for them. A nurse is often the caregiver who has the most connection with the patient from end-to-end, allowing them to observe a patient’s care holistically. In some ways, the move to value-based care is really a switch in mentality to the way a nurse approaches healthcare: it’s about prevention rather than treatment of illness.

However, as the delivery of care shifts, nurses are facing an increase in responsibilities and patients, threatening to erode the core responsibility of advocating for a patient. It may seem counterintuitive, but technology can actually help nurses be more efficient so that they can still provide that critical role as patient caregiver.

For example, many nurses spend a significant amount of time in their day coordinating care, leaving less room for patient advocacy. Nurses often have to notify a full care team, which could require up to a dozen calls to identify the right clinicians. Technology makes it possible for nurses to send just one call or text to notify a full care team. For example, perhaps there’s a patient who is having a stroke. Instead of spending a half hour to find the correct care team members, a nurse can use technology to send a smart alert to all medical staff overseeing that patient – the neurologist, the pharmacist, the EEG technician – and mobilize the care team instantly.

Technology, too, can help transmit information in real time, so less time is spent in the back-and-forth of communicating. For instance, when I volunteered as a pediatric nurse practitioner for a homeless shelter, I occasionally came across a condition that I wasn’t familiar with. Video technology helped me quickly transmit images directly to a physician so that we could collaborate right then and there on what I was actually looking at so that I could continue to advocate for patients.

Adopting and implementing new technologies can be both time and cost intensive, but healthcare executives should consider the benefits and ROI the technology provides, especially as it relates to patient care. Nurses, who often know their patients best, should advocate for the technology they need and then provide leadership with first-hand testimony as to how it contributes to positive patient outcomes and recovery.

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