How Technology Is Changing Nursing Education and Care

Shannan Needleman and her daughter Taylor

Alumna Shannan Needleman and her daughter Taylor

Life has really changed since most of us have grown up.

Gone are the days of cabbage patch kids, slinky and Mr. Potato Head. Board games, while still in existence, have been replaced with high tech Wii and Xbox or iPad games. According to a December 2003 Gallup poll, only 24 percent of American families eat dinner together three or fewer nights a week.

Further research conducted by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda and students at the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, reports “Most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their media links to the world.”

During this study, 200 students were asked to abstain from using all media for one day. Following this 24-hour period, students were asked to comment on their experience. An array of physical, emotional, and social issues was described, including excessive fidgeting, feelings of loneliness, depressed mood, urgency, detachment from global news, boredom and social ineptitude.

Even more shocking, an experiment conducted by psychologists at Virginia and Harvard Universities reports people hated being completely alone, without any form of social media. And in fact, many participants chose to self-administer an electrical shock out of complete boredom that they had said prior to the study they would pay to avoid.

Most of you do not need statistics and research to understand that media and technology are a way of life today. I have grown up to witness and appreciate the advancements, and the “First Global Generation” knows no different.

When I attended classes on the 40 acres, students had to use a telephone plugged into a wall and call during a specific time based on their rank in the alphabet and class in order to register for classes. If I missed a day of class, I would purchase lecture notes from Paradigm Notes: notes typed — on a typewriter — and copied onto red paper so the notes could not be duplicated. Professors used overheads in the classroom to disseminate information. They couldn’t poll the class using an app and would call on a student in front of the entire class.

Most exams were completed on scantrons and essay tests required a composition notebook. I would wait days for test grades to be posted outside the professors’ doors, sometimes having to schlep into the nursing building from across campus two or three times before the scores were posted. Libraries were the only place I could access information and complete research, not a meeting place or quiet study area.

Those days seem archaic to most students today, bothersome and complicated, but I knew no different.

Some will argue that college and medicine are much better today due to technology. Indeed, the advancements have made learning and delivering care easier, but no less complicated. Graduates are still expected to know the same concepts and skills today. In addition, nurses must keep up with the technological advancements, which seem to be arising at lightning-fast speed.

Internet access via cell phone and tablet usage has changed the way we deliver nursing care, from accessing medical information ourselves to patients using these devices for their own purposes.

I laughed when I heard of a converted elementary school hospital in Llano, Texas, that uses cow bells to call for nurses. In a time when patients can now text or page their nurses at will, rather than pressing a call button, this system seems oddly outdated. Soon call lights and buttons may be a thing of the past.

Sometimes patients have to be patient. In a world where instant gratification has become the standard, patients have higher expectation concerning their medical care. They want to feel better immediately. Unfortunately, that is not our reality, just yet.

Recuperation, convalescing, recovering and healing all take time. Sometimes patient frustrations are not directly related to your nursing care, but to the slow process it takes to become better, the isolation a hospital room brings and the inability to connect to the outside world via social media because they don’t feel well. This anxiety piled on top of their diagnosis creates complex layers of uncertainty and irritability.

When I started nursing we had set visiting hours. Outside these hours, parents, family and friends were asked to leave to encourage patients to get their rest. New parents were escorted to the door and forced to leave their critically ill infant overnight, entrusting complete care to the hands of their nurse.

Today few medical facilities enforce visiting hours. Needless to say, parents and family must leave to sleep, shower and attend to household details, but cell phones allow nearly instant communication with the patient or nursing staff.

Furthermore, patients can google every medical term, condition or procedure. Although some will argue this instant access to medical information provides more autonomy for the patient and family, some medical professionals argue that you cannot always trust all internet data. This creates a “double-edged sword” scenario for nurses: We like the fact patients are well informed, but we spend a great deal of time justifying our care and dispelling myths. Often patients believe if information is posted on the web, it must be true.

In conclusion, internet access is here to stay. While there are many advantages to this new technological age, nurses should be aware that this technology now directly impacts our communication with our patients and families, provides an open connection to our patients and can cause a considerable amount of stress and frustration to the patients we serve.

How have cell phones and tablets affected you at your job place?

—Shannan Needleman, alumna (BSN 1994)

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2 comments on “How Technology Is Changing Nursing Education and Care
  1. Richard Schuman says:

    Good article to read. I stimulates thoughts on how much of a challenge it is today to keep paces with the speed of changes – in and outside of the classroom.

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