Of all caregivers, nurses tend to have the most interactions with patients. They're the ones that inpatients call if something is wrong, and they are also often the point of contact for the patient’s family.

So nurses have perhaps the greatest opportunity to create a safer environment for patients.

They also frequently interact with information technology as part of their jobs. For example, they may record patient measurements in an electronic health records system, get orders from computerized order entry systems and communicate via digital communications systems, to name a few.

Nurses also are in short supply, and demands on their time are great. And they are expected to fill many roles during their shifts, interacting with patients, clinicians and other care providers within their organization.

Barcoding in use Cook Children’s Medical Center
Barcoding in use Cook Children’s Medical Center

Because nurses are in such pivotal roles and at the forefront of patient encounters, they can push change forward by using technology to drive patient safety protocols, a key driver in many healthcare organizations.

Here are a few ways that organizations can use technology to empower nurses to excel at their jobs.

Web-based EHR
Implementing a web-based EHR will help to integrate a patient’s care across the continuum. No matter what a nurse's specialty is, best practice content will be embedded into their workflow. Web-based tools such as tablets and other devices also give them the mobility they need to focus on their patient, to talk and listen rather than document. For example, nurses can sit with a patient at the bedside and review test results, discuss medications and how to manage pain, and manage their expectations more effectively while talking face-to-face.

Bedside verification
By scanning barcodes on patient wristbands and medication labels, nurses can verify all requirements of safe medication administration, as well as view vital lab results and diagnostic reports. Also, using an EHR with a mobile component will help them to conveniently review and document care from smartphones using web-based tools. For example, if a nurse gets a call from a patient asking for pain medication, the nurse can quickly grab that med and use the device to scan the patient, the med and document administration within just a few moments.

Surveillance tools
An EHR with a real-time surveillance component enables nurses to quickly monitor and identify patients who may be trending toward a bad outcome, such as sepsis or another potentially life-threatening condition. As surveillance quality boards analyze key clinical and demographic data across the EHR, patients who require attention are flagged. In addition, a solution with actionable boards can speed interventions through on-the-spot ordering, documenting or messaging of the care team.

Watch lists
A watch list can automatically generate a list of patients who need immediate attention from a quality and safety perspective. Watch lists can be built around fall risks, restraints, sepsis or any other potential danger that a nurse deems important. This tool can save nurses a tremendous amount of time over manually reviewing information and creating lists. With manual lists, as soon as they are printed off, the information can become outdated. Watch lists created in real time give nurses the most recent patient information, including up-to-date lists of patients that they can monitor proactively.

Evidence-based toolkits
Evidence-based toolkits that are built directly into the EHR can help clinicians take a broader look at all the factors that go into adverse events and patient safety issues. These toolkits typically consist of optimal workflows, standard content, educational webinar, and other supplemental materials to help an organization improve outcomes and conserve resources.

A nurse's top priority is to provide safe, high-quality care for their patients. Toolkits will help them to reduce errors, improve transitions of care and ensure that the patient is always kept at the center of the care process.

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Cathy Turner, MBA, RN-BC

Cathy Turner, MBA, RN-BC

Cathy Turner, MBA, RN-BC, is an associate vice president of MEDITECH.