How The Internet Changes Nursing

May 20th, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

Nursing, like so many other fields, has changed dramatically with the advent of the internet. Information is at your fingertips. From the desktop at the nurses' station, to the personal laptop, to smart phones everywhere, nurses need never be more than a few keystrokes from their patients, colleagues and worldwide resources. And, it's not just being on the job that has been changed by the latest turn of the information age. Education, licensing and certification, even career advancement can all be achieved by signing on to the closest computer.

Diagnosis and Direct Care

Today, when a patient receives a diagnosis from their physician they are most likely to head home and immediately Google it to find all the latest information on their problem. For Nurses it isn't much different. If a patient has a problem or disease process with which the nurse is unfamiliar it is just a quick trip to the computer. Between in-house resources and the internet any RN can have a quick overview of what the problem is, where it comes from, what symptoms it exhibits and what are the standard forms of care.

Patient safety can also be attributed to information accessible on the internet. If the nurse is doesn't recognize an ordered drug prescription or feels there is a problem with the dosage she can look it up immediately. Well established websites like Epocrates.com and WebMD.com provide current information about clinical management and treatment of disease.

Patient Education and Support

In terms of educating patients about their health issues the internet is also invaluable to nurses. A nurse can answer questions all day long but backing up those answers with printed materials reinforces the teaching, whether it is about a specific disease, activities that can help with healing or rehabilitation or what to expect from the medications prescribed for treatment. This also allows nurses to guide patients and their families to websites that are reliable and trustworthy.

Support groups are great ways for patients to find an understanding community while dealing with their illness. Nurses can suggest online communities for people experiencing chronic illness or going through debilitating treatments. Immune-compromised patients may be unable to attend in-person meetings, but staying in touch with a virtual group may allow them to feel less isolated. CancerCare.org is one professional association which helps organize free groups for patients as well as their caregivers. Virtual communities and forums can play a vital role for patients who find comfort in sharing treatment experience and offering support to each other.

Virtual Treatment and Consults

Another change the internet as brought to nursing is in the use of photography and instant access. The saying, a picture's worth a thousand words is never more true than when a nurse comes across something unusual, whether in a hospital or out working as a home healthcare provider. Rashes, wounds and other physical abnormalities need only be photographed and instantly transmitted to a consulting physician. Seeing the actual problem is more accurate than any verbal description. The problem can be monitored on a daily basis and that is better care in and of itself.

Along those same lines more and more healthcare providers nationwide are establishing their own websites and developing virtual treatment and consultant options for their patients. Instead of calling in a question and waiting for someone to call back when they have a free moment a patient can simply access the provider's website. Nurses and Nurse Practitioners are often man these sites and answer questions as they come in. Everything from getting a prescription refill, assessing symptoms and suggesting care, whether it is a quick trip to the pharmacy or a suggestion that a patient needs to come to the office can be handled efficiently with minimal waiting.

Education

Becoming a nurse or advancing a nursing degree has never been more accessible, with the advent of the internet. Students everywhere have access to virtual classrooms and degree programs. Online education means limitations of location and time become much less difficult. Anyone with a computer and the desire can fit school into their lives. Diploma and Associate Degree Nurses have more schools to choose from everyday as universities and college build their online learning communities and make Bachelor's Degrees more available. Master's Degrees in Nursing Education, Business and Management and Healthcare Administration can all be achieved in the internet classroom.

The nurse’s role in patient care combined with technology has produced a whole new area of nursing education. Nursing informatics is a sub-discipline of health informatics that applies information technology to the skills and work of nurses in healthcare. It integrates the science of nursing, computer technology and information science to enhance the quality of the nursing practice, through improved communication, documentation and efficiency. Degrees in nursing informatics are offered all over the country and the internet.

Getting and maintaining a nursing license may be completely online in the near future. Already, the national nursing licensing exam (NCLEX) is administered and scored on the computer. And, more and more states are no longer issuing paper licenses. Meet the requirements and pay the fees and a nurse is licensed. Employers simply check online for verification.

Many states now require continuing education (CE) for licensing. Nurses needing those hours can get them without leaving home, which in many cases removes important constraints such as travel and child care. Sites such as RN.com allow round-the-clock access to courses and technical support. Employers can purchase or produce educational seminars and show them in real time in a conference room or over the facilities intranet.

Supporting education and advancement most nursing professional journals either completely publish on the web or make their articles accessible through clearing houses like CINAHL. Nurses need only type in a few key search words and professional articles and research from all over the world are at their fingertips. And, nurses have access to a greater variety of educational tools. Articles can now include sound commentary, video clips, animation and links to other references and information.

Employment

Nurses seeking to stretch their wings have the job world at their fingertips. Clearing houses like NursingJobs.com and monster.com list available nursing positions all over the country. Hospitals may exclusively accept applications and resumes over the internet. Nurses can take virtual tours of hospitals and cities they are interested in working in, find statistics for pay rates, and book their travel to a job interview.

The Internet facilitates a feeling of community and can create the ability to investigate job issues easily. Union members can use online forums to discuss contract negotiation issues, salary, benefits and legal information. New healthcare legislation and practice agreements, as well as regulatory mandates, can be followed on government and association websites.

Community

Nurses have always had a strong sense of community. Nurses belong to societies, associations and support groups. The internet has brought a new vista…nursing blogs are web logs that range from the academic to the personal. They can provide news and information about the nursing world, practice issues and resources available to nurses which they might not yet know about. Some are diaries or journals sharing intimate thoughts, patient stories, job frustrations or even adventure and leisure activities. The ability to comment allows readers to enter and interact in the lives of their colleagues. They can be a valuable source for information, support and understanding. Nurses in rural or remote areas may be surprised to find they share the same concerns as their big city counterparts. And, since the internet is international nurses worldwide find they have many of the same concerns.

The world is at your fingertips with the internet. As nurses, what we find out there on the web can lead us to be being better health care professionals, better informed, and better connected and supported by our peers.

One Response to “How The Internet Changes Nursing”

  1. Chris Laibe Says:

    Great article, Jennifer. I like the theme of using the internet to collaborate and build communities. The internet also changes nursing by helping nurses manage their work-life balance. The latest online scheduling tools make it easy(er) to control work hours, react to needs at home, and collaborate efficiently with colleagues to sort it all out. This helps reduce burnout and can positively impact quality of care. I blog about this on info.schedulist.com/blog if you want to learn more.

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