Clinical Automation Technology in Nursing: Pros vs. Cons
- Clinical automation technology in nursing care helps reduce the challenges of monotonous tasks and increases the time nurses can spend with patients.
- Medical technology has refined how patient care is administered, including automated external defibrillators, electronic health records, and robotics that autonomously pick up and deliver supplies.
- Provider and patient distrust in technological advancements may hinder the wide use of automated processes until a cultural shift is achieved.
Nurses are familiar with several clinical automation technologies that have changed the administration of patient care. These include automated blood pressure cuffs, electronic health records, and electronic intravenous (IV) management systems.
Further development of clinical automation technology in nursing has both advantages and disadvantages to patient care. Discover what our contributors discussed about the role clinical automation plays in nursing care, including the benefits, challenges, and the technology currently in development.
The Role of Clinical Automation Technology in Nursing
Compared to nursing care in the past, medical technology invented in the past 50 years has refined and advanced how patient care is administered.
For example, before IV management pumps, nurses administered fluids using a drip system, which required constant attention to ensure an accurate flow. Today's electronic IV management systems administer the medication and can either correct it or contact the nurse remotely when problems arise.
Rikki Jennings, BSN, RN, CPN, is the chief nursing informatics officer at Zebra Technologies. She notes that automation technology is used in several areas within the clinical setting. It is an invaluable tool to optimize several processes, including:
- Bed availability
- Reducing delays in equipment availability
- Maintaining a dynamic workflow using real-time locating systems for asset management
Despite these advances to clinical automation technology in nursing, a 2021 evaluation of the literature concluded that opportunities to enhance the nursing care process exist, especially at the stage of information acquisition.
There are countless ways clinical automation technology in nursing has changed the way healthcare is delivered. Below are just a few examples of clinical automation technology in healthcare.
Automated external defibrillators
Small machines can be found in public areas such as office buildings, community centers, and airports. They're so easy to use that even a child can help to save a life.
Portable monitoring equipment
Nurses can track patients when they move throughout the hospital or helping another patient. Portable devices can monitor respiratory rates and oxygen saturation.
Smart bed track technology
These provide the nurse with updates and communication on a patient's activity, like their movement, weight, and vitals. Patients can rest more at night since nurses spend less time adjusting supplies and medical equipment.
Electronic health record (EHR)
These digital records replace the older paper system and allow healthcare providers to document and retrieve information quickly and easily. The EHR provides real-time health updates, which can help improve the speed and accuracy of care.
Apps and other technology allow patients to video chat with their providers. This increases access to healthcare for patients in rural areas or patients who are housebound.
The TUG robot helps transport medical devices, drugs, lab specimens, and sensitive supplies. The system replaces the pneumatic tube system, using biometric security and pin codes to ensure security.
Moxie is a robotic device that autonomously picks up supplies and delivers them directly to patient rooms.
Veebot is a phlebotomist robot still in development. The device uses a combination of image analysis and infrared light to find a suitable vein, determine if it is large enough to administer fluid or draw blood, and insert the needle.
Benefits of Clinical Automation Technology in Nursing
There are several benefits to using clinical automation technology with patient care, not the least of which is helping to reduce nurse burnout and turnover. Many of the automation technology devices used and in development can help reduce a nurse's monotonous tasks.
This can free nurses to spend more time with patients. Also, helping to supplement nursing care can increase job satisfaction and help with retention.
"Technology can ease staff communication, increase collaboration, and improve responsiveness. That being said, the most valuable automation solutions, in my opinion, are those that give you time back to spend with patients," says Jennings.
According to Jennings, nurses can spend as many as 40 hours each month looking for equipment. These hours quickly add up to wasted time that could have been spent with patients. Using unique radio frequency identification or Bluetooth low-energy identification tags, hospitals can monitor their inventory and patients.
The technology can reduce delays and help the nursing staff operate more efficiently. Jennings notes that automated vital monitoring and alerts help nurses monitor critical patients.
"This technology confirms patients are stable without having to physically enter each room, and it can even enable nurses to intervene from afar when a patient is in crisis," she says.
Jennings also notes that clinical automation technology in nursing can be used to help automate staff scheduling. This can reduce the workload on charge nurses and administrative staff, so more time can be spent with patients or training staff nurses.
She mentions unified communication solutions with task management capabilities "that can remove some of the daily guesswork by automatically prioritizing a nurse's routine tasks, like taking vitals, administering medication, and assessing symptoms."
Nancy Mitchell has been a geriatric nurse for over 37 years, working as a senior care nurse and director of nursing care. For her, automated IV pumps have helped the geriatric patient population and nursing staff immensely, including reducing medication errors. The pumps are designed to deliver fluids at a set rate, increasing the effectiveness of drug use by the patients' bodies.
"Ultimately, it's relieved some of the emotional burdens that come with caring for others in need," she says.
Jennings has found that automation technologies can help alleviate a nurse's stress and free up nursing time that could be better spent focusing on patients.
"Nurses are a critical component of patient care, and their days are filled with judgment calls and real-time decision-making. They simply don't have the bandwidth to also manage facilities, operational records, or medical supplies and equipment in today's high-demand, fast-paced clinical settings," Jennings says.
Challenges of Clinical Automation Technology in Nursing
Mitchell mentions that the learning curve in using the technology depends on the device that's being used. Despite potential learning curves, clinical automation technology in nursing helps mitigate the impact of staff shortages.
Even small devices like digital stethoscopes that automatically detect heart murmurs can help improve patient care. However, as with all new innovations, developing trust in technology can be a major challenge to overcome.
This distrust extends to the patient as well, who may not want to work with chatbots to handle their health or who believe that technology cannot help protect their privacy. Overcoming this challenge may require a shift in the healthcare culture.
Institutions could work with clinicians to help engage their feedback and demonstrate that the clinical automation technologies are not intended to replace them. Instead, they can help support their work and improve patient outcomes.
Acceptance of new technology begins with executives within the organization. It must be demonstrated and communicated to the healthcare providers. One way to improve workflow is to create a new process that supports clinical automation, ensuring it enhances clinical practice without adding to the workload.
Many technology companies work with developers to enhance the user interface so providers are comfortable using them, and the device is also securely connected to the information system.
"As with all advancements in workflow designs, supporting users through adoption is vital," Jennings says. "However, what's most critical is that frontline clinicians and users are involved in solution design and selection early in the project as this plays a significant role in reducing the scale of the learning curve."
The history of clinical automation technology in nursing began long before technological advancements made EHR or digital stethoscopes a reality. Continued technology advancements have reduced the monotonous tasks in patient care, allowing for increased human contact and improved patient outcomes for those who embrace the advancements.
Meet Our Contributors
Rikki Jennings, BSN, RN, CPN
Rikki Jennings is currently the chief nursing informatics officer at Zebra Technologies where she is responsible for combining her knowledge of patient care, informatics, and management to effectively address the needs of healthcare professionals and patients to promote safe, effective, and efficient use of IT in clinical settings.
Nancy Mitchell, RN
Nancy Mitchell is a registered nurse and contributing writer for AssistedLivingCenter.com. She has over 37 years of experience in geriatric nursing care both as a senior care nurse and director of nursing care.
Akbar S, et al. (2021). Automation in nursing decision support systems: A systematic review of effects on decision making, care delivery, and patient outcomes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8510331/
Change healthcare: Mobile robots improve patient care, employee satisfaction, safety, productivity and more. (2018). https://aethon.com/mobile-robots-for-healthcare/
Jung S. (2013). Veebot, the robotic phlebotomist that makes drawing blood faster. https://www.medgadget.com/2013/07/robotic-phloebotomist.html
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