Nurses remain in critical role amid changes in healthcare


As healthcare continues to evolve, there is one constant when it comes to treating patients: The critical role that nurses play in delivering quality care. That role has certainly expanded over the years, particularly in the areas of establishing and maintaining patient safety, finding workflow efficiencies through evidence-based clinical documentation, and recognizing and responding to social determinants of health.

At the same time, new tools and trends are giving nurses more information, with more time to evaluate and respond to patient needs, so that they can make the right decisions and deliver the safest care.

Patient safety: At the bedside — and beyond

Nurses have perhaps the greatest opportunity to create a safer environment for patients, since they serve as the main point of contact for patients and their families.

Beyond those personal interactions, the nurse’s role in maintaining patient safety now includes technology like web-based EHRs, real-time surveillance tools, watchlists, and toolkits that can help avoid adverse outcomes like sepsis and CAUTI.

And when documenting patient encounters, nurses also manage patient privacy and protected health information (PHI) by embracing HIPAA-compliant security protocols for handling patient records.

As technology continues to advance and evolve, so, too, will the role of nurses in continuing to keep patients safe — and in making decisions about patient care in a more efficient way.

Clinical documentation: Giving time back for patient care

A 2016 study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that nurses spend twice as much time using technology as visiting with patients — but there are ways for an integrated EHR to reduce time spent on documentation and give nurses more opportunity for direct patient care.

From surveillance tools that use algorithms to provide actionable, real-time information about patients to documentation tools that can be managed from mobile devices, modern EHRs are focused on making the nursing workflow as efficient as possible.

Some of the results are truly impressive — at Hospital Corporation of America, for example, EHR users save an average of two hours of documentation per shift, thanks to their efforts to standardize and reconfigure nursing documentation.

All of these efforts are built on the critical feedback that nurses provide in explaining their workflows, leading to enhanced capabilities of integrated EHRs to meet each provider’s needs.

Giving nurses more time to focus on patient care also improves their ability to view the patient holistically and coordinate care beyond the clinic.

Social determinants of health: Treatment outside the hospital walls

Did you know that 80 percent of a patient’s health is influenced by factors other than clinical care? This provides a unique opportunity for providers to address patient health outside their practice by integrating their efforts with social workers, clinical pharmacists, and community service organizations to reduce dependence on the ED as a social safety net.

As medical professionals work to address social determinants of health, they’ve developed creative ways to identify these factors and respond to them, like Bristol Hospital in Connecticut participating in the The Connecticut Social Health Initiative project. The project allowed the hospital to take an in-depth look at new behavioral health patients in the community and their housing, employment, food, and transportation issues. Frisbie Memorial Hospital also utilized their understanding of its community’s needs by establishing a food program in their town.

In these cases, nurses are typically the first providers to recognize social factors for patients, identify resources, and integrate appropriate measures into the plan of care, making them the most appropriate source for information that will help patients beyond the hospital walls.

No matter what changes in healthcare, the need for informed nurses who have state-of-the-art tools in providing safe, dependable care to their patients remains consistent. 


Watch this On-Demand Webinar by Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) on the socioeconomic factors that can make or break your patient outcomes.

Watch The Social Determinants of Health Webinar Recording

Topics: Nurse, Home Care, Patient Safety, Integration, Population Health, Security

Written by Cathy Turner, BSN, MBA, RN-BC, Associate Vice President, MEDITECH

Cathy Turner, BSN, MBA, RN-BC is a member of the Healthcare Information Management System Society (HIMSS) and the American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA), as well as director of MEDITECH’s Nursing Informatics Program.
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