We recently sat down with THSA board member, Cynthia Stinson, to discuss the use of health IT in nursing today. Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry, providing critical support to patients and their families, and their expertise and commitment are essential to delivering high-quality care. Read more below:
Tell us about yourself. What made you want to become a nurse? When did you start?
I am Dr. Cynthia Stinson (PhD, APRN, CNS, RN-BC)- School of Nursing Chair and Associate Professor at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and a first-generation college student. I graduated in the first nursing class at Lamar University (LU) in 1975. After graduating with my Associate Degree, I obtained my Bachelor of Science degree in nursing at LU in 1980, a master’s degree in nursing in Adult Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 1994, and my Ph.D. from Texas Woman’s University in Houston in 2006. My specialty is medical surgical nursing. I am a published author and have presented internationally on topics related to nursing practice. I became a nurse because I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I was influenced by my mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease at an early age. Nursing allows you to experience life. Nurses are there for the beginning of life and are with people in their most vulnerable times including when they take their last breath. I enjoy the role of educator because I can influence the next generation of nurses. Hopefully, I will leave my profession better off when I leave than when I entered it.
How do you see technology improving healthcare?
Technology can provide consistency to healthcare. It can provide an organized way to store data, an easier way of tracking data, and improved transfer of knowledge. This information can lead to better communication with improved patient/client outcomes. Research has shown that technology prevents medical errors. According to an article published recently in the National Institute of Health (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2723209/). Evidence supports those systems using information technology (IT) including computerized physician order entry, automated dispensing cabinets, bedside bar-coded medication administration, and electronic medication reconciliation, are key components of strategies to prevent errors. Information technology systems also have the potential to save up to $88 billion over 10 years in costs in the United States. Facilities with automated notes and records, order entry, and clinical decision support have fewer complications, lower mortality rates, and lower costs. Other examples of how technology can improve health care include the following: improvement in early diagnoses statistics, improved surgical outcomes, more detailed and accurate epidemiology data, and improved communication among health care responders during times of emergencies or disasters. It is imperative that in the future that usage of technology be explored in healthcare.
How has your experience as a nurse influenced your work as a THSA board member?
I believe that to advance healthcare, we must practice in interprofessional groups. As a nurse, I have seen better outcomes when there is ongoing communication among members of the healthcare team. This premise is supported by research in the aviation industry. According to an article published in 2015 by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (https://www.agcs.allianz.com/news-and-insights/expert-risk-articles/how-aviation-safety-has-improved.html) aviation accidents are a chain of events that many times involve some form of human error. This article also reports that in recent decades there has been improvements in crew or cockpit resource management and the monitoring of data, which reduce the risk of human error. This abundance of research stresses how important communication is among all the team members. As a THSA board member, I am honored to be on a board that brings different professions together to focus on the importance of information technology during disasters. Each member brings their own perspective and expertise to the board.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that nurses face in today’s healthcare environment? How can technology help address them?
I am not sure there is only one challenge that is the “biggest.” There are multiple big challenges. However, one of the biggest challenges is the severe shortage of nurses related to several factors including the following: aging workforce, lack of pay at the bedside, COVID fatigue, nurse turnover, and shortage of nursing faculty. A second challenge is related to the ever-changing landscape of healthcare. It has become extremely difficult to keep up with the growing evidence and the knowledge that is generated daily concerning what is evidence- based practice. Daily new treatments are uncovered, new diseases are identified, new medications are released, and new equipment must have orientation. This is an area technology can help address. Presently, technology allows nurses and other healthcare members an avenue to review data or information they might not be familiar with. A third challenge that is not new but receiving more attention since COVID is nurse burnout and compassion fatigue. Nurses have one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation. Nurses leave the profession due to the inability to manage the continual stressful situations which leads to nursing shortage. Nurse burnout is caused by varied factors; however, documentation and data retrieval may contribute to this challenge. Technology can provide a streamlined way of dealing with documentation plus help with retrieval, storage, and transfer of information. A fourth challenge is educating nurses for the future. There is a shortage of clinical sites and faculty. During COVID educating future nurses was even harder. However, technology especially virtual learning environments, simulations, and computerized scenarios offered an alternative.
What advice do you have for nurses who are new to using health IT systems in their work?
The advice I have for nurses begins with the philosophy of the facility where nurses are employed. The facility must allow time for orientation and education. Education can be expensive and sometimes time consuming. It is a known fact the IT systems change. Education must be ongoing with ample time for nurses to attend away from patients and responsibilities in their designated area. Nurses must be given permission to not know how the system works and be safe to ask questions they do not understand. One point I would like to address here is that is important that nurses help with the building of IT systems. Only nurses know what nurses need. In my experience over the years, I have had to use systems that are not user friendly for nurses. This problem could be prevented if nurses were consulted in the beginning. One of the reasons why I am so proud to be on the THSA board is because I have a chance to offer nursing input.
What do you see as the future of nursing and healthcare technology?
Technology is the future of healthcare. It will be a necessary component for healthcare and will be a major area of education in any healthcare teaching environment. The changes that have taken place utilizing technology in the last decade has been astronomical and will only continue to advance in all areas of healthcare. This includes areas of documentation, data mining, research, simulations, education, patient testing, and robotic surgeries to name a few. It is impossible to predict the impact technology will have on healthcare in the future.
Can you describe a particular case where health IT played a critical role in improving patient outcomes or streamlining nursing workflows?
There are areas where IT has played a critical role in improving patient outcomes. One of these areas is the improvement in screening tools for patients. For example, computed tomography (CT scans) or 3D mammograms. CT scans can help diagnose tumors, investigate internal bleeding, or check for internal injuries. The digital 3D mammograms save lives because patients are diagnosed at an earlier stage. 3D mammography, takes multiple digital X-ray images of the breast, providing a three-dimensional view that results in a more accurate screening. As a survivor of breast cancer, I realize how important that is. Another area in the health care arena where technology has helped is use of a Medication administration record (MAR) that is computer generated decreasing the number of medication errors due to human error related to illegible writing leading to inaccurate interpretation.
What message would you like to share with fellow nurses during National Nurses Week?
Take time to take care of yourself. You cannot take care of other people if you do not take care of yourself. It is okay to ask for help. Asking for help, is not a sign of weakness but a sign of courage. Dr. Naomi Reman wrote “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and nor be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to walk through water without getting wet” Thank-you for all you do to help so many daily.