What Nurses Hate About Technology (And What They Love)
By Kathleen Colduvell RN, BSN, BA, CBC
In the 21st century, nursing and technology have become inextricably linked. Wearable tech, electronic medical records (EMRs), and other innovations are now common.
In some ways, it can be frustrating when patients use the internet to educate themselves. Websites like WebMD and Wikipedia get patients thinking and worrying, so do they really help?
With patients being vulnerable to misinformation, sites offering questionable medical advice can cause unnecessary stress or even cause patients to ignore symptoms that actually need attention. It can also make a nurse's job more difficult if the patient insists on a certain diagnosis or treatment based on this misinformation.
While such issues can be a problem, there is an upside to greater patient participation in their personal healthcare.
Patients Taking Responsibility
More patients are taking responsibility for their health. Research shows that online access to information increases patients’ desire to take an active role in their own healthcare.
Patients research symptoms before coming to the hospital. In fact, some use the Internet to determine if symptoms warrant seeking care in the first place.
More information usually means more proactive patients. But it’s important for nurses to remind patients to discuss their concerns with the medical team and assess the quality of their sources.
The Digital Disconnect
While WebMD isn’t the only source of online health information, it’s the most popular destination for self-diagnosis. And for nurses, it can be a shortcut to a headache.
Most nurses have experienced the patient or family that says, “Well, online it says it could be this….or this should be done this way….or this is how to give an enema, according to this blog.” Medical websites are changing bedside nursing and how we educate patients and their families.
One in every 20 searches on Google is about health. This information can be dangerous when it's inaccurate or even if it's merely anecdotal.
In 2015, the search engine decided this information should be more accurate and tweaked their search algorithm to include results focused on reputable websites instead of blogs and personal stories.
They teamed with the Mayo Clinic to change how they provide health information. Prior to this, a search for 'pinkeye' would list websites with information from other countries, 'mommy blogs,' and DIY treatments.
Now, physician-approved websites receive top ranking no matter the number of “hits” they receive.
The WebMD Investigation
In 2010, WebMD was investigated by Senator Chuck Grassley for its connection with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. WebMD had disclosed Lilly as a partner but never revealed that many of the recommendations on the site favored advertisers. So, it was impossible for laypeople to tell medical data from sponsored information.
The New York Times Magazine uncovered WebMD’s inaccuracies. WebMD has since made some changes but is still geared toward medications and treatments from advertisers.
Wikipedia = Unreliable
While nurses might complain about the “WebMD expert patient”, the “Wikipedia expert patient” is scarier. Despite Wikipedia being one of the web’s most popular reference sites, it isn’t a credible resource. On Wikipedia, anyone can contribute to, and edit, the website. Content is eventually verified, but things can be missed.
According to a 2009 survey by the Wikimedia Foundation, 87 percent of Wikipedia editors are male graduate students in Europe and North America, with an average age of 26.8 years. How can people with little or no medical training edit information about diseases and treatments?
Patients are using medical websites and nurses have to adapt and educate patients accordingly. Providing helpful information and reputable websites can help prevent patients from using less reliable sources.
Why the Internet?
Studies indicate that patients’ trust in doctors remains strong despite increased online research. Most patients simply want answers quickly, and others want to be more involved in their care.
Sources like WebMD provide those answers quickly when it can take months to see a specialist. Nurses can urge patients to follow up with medical professionals and not just rely on online information.
Nurses As Educators
One of the most important functions of a nurse is patient education. While nurses spend most of their time educating patients on disease processes, symptoms, medications, and treatments, we must also educate patients how to use the web wisely.
Nurses, Tech, and Opportunity
Nurses seeking more out-of-the-box patient education careers can also consider working for insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, or medical device manufacturers that provide patients with hands-on training. As medical apps become more numerous, some nurses will find themselves working with the tech sector or as nurse informaticists.
If you’re interested in these and other types of positions, seek out nurses already filling such roles and ask them for advice on getting a foot in the door. Staying updated on tech innovations is helpful, as is a high level of expertise and comfort with technology, web-based applications, mobile apps, and computers in general.
The Internet and technology aren’t going away, and patients will continue to use them. Nurses are in a unique position to help that process. Some nurses can build satisfying careers out of patient education and the intersection of technology and patient care.
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Kathleen Colduvell RN, BSN, BA, CBC graduated with a degree in English and journalism before going back to nursing school. After graduating from Villanova University, she became a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse. Currently, she works at one of the leading children's hospitals in the country in the NICU, PICU, and CICU, as well as working as a Certified Breastfeeding Consultant.
Image attribution: stori / 123RF Stock Photo