ICU Nurses: Have You Started Using these New Technologies?
Technological advances in healthcare give ICU nurses more detailed and relevant patient information, which frees up time to provide care when it’s needed most. What will tomorrow bring?
Based on what’s already available, we can expect that with the help of emerging technologies ICU nurses will gain even more accuracy, efficiency, and insight into patients’ conditions at any given moment.
Just as importantly, ICU RNs will be able to personalize nursing care more than ever before.
Using Bed Angle Sensors
A bed’s angle is highly important to ICU patients as the correct angle can reduce the risk of aspiration pneumonia.
Research is currently looking into algorithms and sensors that detect the angle of a patient’s bed, something many ICU RNs have to estimate by sight or calculate manually.
Researchers have even used off-the-shelf products to do this, including the Microsoft Kinect. This is a complex and highly organized system that encompasses a wide range of benefits, but sometimes it’s the simple things that can make a big difference in patient care.
This is a complex and highly organized system that encompasses a wide range of benefits, but sometimes it’s the simple things that can make a big difference in patient care.
With a sensor to automatically detect bed angle, nurses are able to monitor bed status when the patient is alone. Beyond that, they can also accumulate and analyze data across all the bed sensors in their ICU to better understand hospital-acquired infections and gain more insight into the relationship between bed angle and disease recovery.
The “Medicine-on-Demand” Microchip
While current technological advances are focused on monitoring, future progress should also give ICU nurses more help with repetitive tasks. For example, research is ongoing into tiny microchips that could be embedded under the skin and automatically distribute medications on a programmed schedule to those with chronic conditions.
In one study, a wirelessly controlled biochip was able to safely and reliably deliver doses of medication to osteoporosis patients for up to 20 days, saving them from daily injections.
Fighting Alarm Fatigue
Medical researchers are also working overtime to create an algorithm that will combat alarm fatigue. While ICU monitors are remarkably sensitive, they sometimes miss critical events because they can’t compare different data points. They also tend to be so sensitive that they go off well over 100 times a day per bed.
A group of UC San Francisco researchers, led by three from the School of Nursing, are currently working on a super alarm that could aggregate disparate data and filter out false alarms so that clinicians were only ever called when really needed.
ICU-specific Medical Apps
Healthcare apps are another major growth area. Specifically for ICU nurses, the Emerge app has sprung from Project Emerge, a quality improvement initiative to eliminate preventable harms in the ICU, engage patients and their families in care and increase personalization.
ICU nurses perform many complicated daily tasks to avoid preventable harm such as blood clots or ventilator-associated pneumonia in critically ill patients. Currently, that involves monitoring a vast array of machines and technologies, gathering data and combining the information to assess how a patient is doing.
This new tablet application does all of that for them – it coordinates and integrates data from monitoring equipment and medical records and uses a simple color-coded diagram to tell nurses which actions must be taken and when.
The app also makes the ICU less intimidating for patients and families by allowing them to send questions directly to the medical team and learn more about the machines surrounding them.
Family members can offer to help out with intimate tasks such as washing the patient’s hair and uploading personal information, like their favorite music or TV shows, which will allow staff to understand their patients as individuals.
Monitoring From the Next Room – or Further
It seems like a strange future, but ICU RNs could eventually spend more time watching screens and using apps on mobile devices than they do sitting by patients’ bedsides.
The advent of telehealth (essentially, remote medical monitoring) will allow ICU nurses to concentrate on other crucial tasks, rather than spending their majority of time watching patients for signs of deterioration.
Wearable devices and mounted cameras that can zoom in on patients help ICU nurses to monitor patients from afar, with software that filters out normal variations in a patient’s vital signs and only alerts the nurse when needed.
Mobile Devices Could Allow Patients to Return Home Sooner
Eventually, it’s reasonable to assume that will be taken even further, with patients allowed to return home sooner than currently advised, but still under observation from the hospital.
Not only could this ease the burden of overcrowded hospitals, but it would also be a boon to patients.
Less time spent in the hospital would reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infection. And while hospitals would be able to call patients back in as soon as relapse symptoms appear, patients would receive the ultimate benefit of more recuperation time spent in the comfort of their own homes.
ICU technology is on the vanguard of healthcare innovation and ICU nurses are key members of the care team implementing these new applications.
This specialization is growing as well, with an expected increase in both employment opportunities and salaries.
Learn more about critical care nursing careers and start your journey.