Nurses’ role in delivering quality care has 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 clinical information tools and trends are giving nurses more information, additionally offering more time to evaluate and respond to patient needs, so that they can make the right decisions and deliver the safest care.

Nurses have perhaps the greatest opportunity to create a safer environment for patients, because they serve as the main point of contact for patients and their families. Beyond these personal interactions, the nurse’s role in maintaining patient safety now includes technology like EHRs, real-time surveillance tools, watch lists, and toolkits that can help avoid adverse outcomes like sepsis and catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI).

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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.

A 2016 study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that nurses spend twice as much time using technology as visiting with patients. However, 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 intended to improve the nursing workflow to make it as efficient as possible.

Some of the results are truly impressive. At HCA Healthcare, 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. Awareness of social determinants of health is growing, because it’s generally recognized that 80 percent of a patient’s health is influenced by factors other than clinical care.

EHRs that empower clinicians to understand the massive influence of SDOH offer 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. Better coordination between these previously disparate organizations can reduce dependence on expensive visits to the emergency department as a social safety net for care.

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 Connecticut Social Health Initiative project. The project enables the hospital to take an in-depth look at new behavioral health patients in the community and their housing, employment, food and transportation issues. In another example, staff at 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 in the next few years, the need for informed nurses who have state-of-the-art tools in providing safe, dependable care to their patients will remain consistent.

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