When people think about the technological innovations fueling change in healthcare, nurses are sometimes left out of the picture. They see the technicians running increasingly specialized equipment, and the doctors leaning on new therapies in their long campaign against disease, but today’s nurses do much more than deliver sponge baths and draw blood.
In this article, we look at how wearable IoT (Internet of Things) breakthroughs are changing the way nurses care for their patients. The mission of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University's online RN to BSN program is to graduate new BSNs who are well-prepared to make good use of all the new treatment tools now at their disposal—and to adapt to new tools yet to come.
A Burgeoning Market
Given how many of our homes now include IoT-enabled appliances and commercial “Artificial Intelligence” like Siri and Alexa, it should come as little surprise to find the same technology working its way into hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Meanwhile, wearable devices have been popular for exercise (i.e. Fitbits) and to help diabetics monitor their insulin for some time now. These popular commercial devices have worn down consumer resistance to being under constant electronic surveillance, and manufacturers are poised to reap the benefits.
A recent Forbes overview of the emerging medical/healthcare IoT field cites research predicting that the market will reach a valuation of $136.8 billion worldwide by 2021. Already, there are “over 3.7 million medical devices in use that are connected to and monitor various parts of the body to inform healthcare decisions.”[i]
Before You Know You’re Sick
Wearable devices automatically monitor and collect information on a patient’s vitals (blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate etc.), which can be transmitted to healthcare providers in the event of a red flag.
Remote monitoring utilizes smart sensors to record and transmit data about a patient’s status. This can have huge implications for a nurse’s relationship to their patients, as IoTBusinessNews.com notes:
“Collecting information remotely means that nurses no longer need to physically see patients as frequently and diminishes the amount of time spent on rote tasks. Because data can be collected and stored or transmitted to another device, it allows patients to be monitored internationally, making better healthcare more accessible around the globe. A single nurse’s impact can extend beyond one geographic location.”[ii]
The potential benefits to patients are clear, but there is a flip side to this innovation. As the quote above attests, remote monitoring can indeed extend beyond a given nurse’s geographic location, but this also opens up their job to the risk of outsourcing.
Nursing has historically been a somewhat “safe” profession, in that healthcare is always in demand, and because the position requires hands-on interaction. It’s a certainty that companies are already exploring the possibilities of call center-style care, where medical advice is dispensed from overseas.
It’s therefore in the best interests of working American RNs to upgrade their education to a BSN (or beyond), making their skill set even that much more indispensable. Wearable technology has the potential to bring greater clarity, especially when it comes to seeing whether a patient is correctly following their prescribed treatment plan. According to IoTBusinessMews.com, here too nurses are expected to remain at the forefront:
“Nurses will play a vital role in teaching patients how various smart sensors or other monitoring devices work in conjunction with their healthcare and why the increased technology is important and beneficial. Applications that interface with a health system’s software can provide reminders to patient when it’s time to take medication or exercise, or alert the patient’s care team if a patient misses doses or if there is an unexpected change in the patient’s physical condition.”[iii]
Even highly advanced technology, bolstered by powerful machine learning software, is subject to error. Interpreting results will still always require the wisdom and knowledge brought to bear by nurses, pharmacists and doctors.
A Shift From Reactive Care to a Model of Prevention?
To improve healthcare, the hope has always been that new technologies will help to keep patients out of hospital by preventing them from getting sick, be it through anticipatory prescriptions or lifestyle modifications.
In the case of wearable IoT devices, medical practitioners will have more comprehensive data collection on their patients ever before, combined with instantaneous transmission. In the best case scenario, no cancer will ever be caught too late, and lifestyle-related chronic diseases like diabetes can be nipped in the bud.
Realistically, however, these technologies can only do so much while there are still significant economic barriers to accessing care, and an industry that tends to invest more in therapies for symptom management than outright cures. IoT’s more pragmatic potential is in reducing human error in the delivery of treatment.
At this point, the question is not whether IoT will saturate the healthcare system, but how nurses can incorporate the significant upside it will offer into their practice. The answer will go a long way to determining how the nursing discipline looks ten years from now.
Find out more about how Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University's online RN to BSN program can help you stay at the forefront of nursing care.
Check out this infographic on Becoming a Tech-Savvy Nurse and a recent blogpost on How an RN to BSN Degree Can Improve Nursing Job Satisfaction.