Nursing has changed rapidly and drastically over the past few decades alone. As with most other fields, technology has played a major role in these changes. For nurses, the arrival of laptop computers and the electronic medical record in their workplaces has made their jobs and the jobs of other medical professionals easier, and even possibly safer for the patients they care for.
No More Waiting for the Doctor
In the days of all paper charting in hospitals, all of a patient’s documents were kept in a hardback chart at the nursing station. This chart included everything from financial and emergency information to vital signs, lab and diagnostic results, and doctor’s orders. When doctors or other skilled professionals made their rounds, they would have the patient charts in their possession temporarily. This meant if the nurse needed to document a set of vital signs, look up a lab value, find contact information for a patient’s family member or see if the doctor had written any new orders, he or she had to wait for the chart. At times, this caused delays in patient care and frustrated nurses which in turn decreased their job satisfaction.
With hospitals now turning to electronic medical records, more than one person can access patient chart data at one time. In most hospitals, laptops are installed in each patient room, or portable lap tops are available for staff use, as well as stationary computers at the nurses’ station. This means that the doctor can be at the nurse’s station putting orders into a patients chart while at the same time the nurse is at the patient’s bedside documenting her shift assessment, or the nurse can be in the hallway with her portable laptop checking lab values from this morning’s lab draw and the physical therapist can be documenting notes on the patient from elsewhere in the facility at the same time.
Less Room for Error
Laptops have also reduced errors in the field. With laptop assessments, vital signs and other important patient information can be documented in the patient’s chart at the bedside as soon as they are completed, or even while they are being done. Gone are the days of scribbling vital signs and assessment notes on a paper towel and then charting the information at the nurse’s station. Anyone who has been a nurse for longer than a decade can tell you this was quite a common occurrence, especially during unforeseen circumstances.
Handwriting has also been a major challenge in regards to time and errors in the medical field. With laptops and computer charting, nurses and other medical care givers now have more time on their hands, as they spend less time deciphering handwriting, calling doctors to clarify orders with unclear handwriting, as well as looking for missing paper charts. Even more importantly, fewer errors are made now that little is done with handwriting and most orders and documentation are done via computers. Computer programs, such as charting or ordering programs can be preprogrammed to pick up on errors, such as a wrong or even lethal dose of medication ordered, and work as an added safety net in providing safe care to patients.
The arrival of laptops in the field of nursing has changed this career field and the entire medical field in many ways. Nurses now have a little more time on their hands to spend on direct patient care. They can also be a little more confident that they work they do will be less intertwined with potential for error. Nurses, especially ones who have been in their careers for a long time, can be somewhat resistant to change; however, most nurses can agree that using laptops have made their work lives more manageable, and that laptops have also made the hospital environment safer for their patients.
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Jackie O’Connor is a freelance health-care blogger. She wrote this post on behalf of the folks at Medical Billing and Coding Salary Certification.