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Departments: Editorial

Technology useful only with human touch

Hader, Richard RN, CNA, CHE, CPHQ, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

Nursing Management (Springhouse): December 2004 - Volume 35 - Issue 12 - p 6
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If renowned behavioral theorist Abraham Maslow lived today, perhaps he would’ve included the use of technology in his description of the basic needs for human survival. How did we operate prior to cell phones, e-mail, fax machines, or the Internet? Is easy access to technology fundamental to our existence, increasing the quality of our lives?

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Each day we seek new and innovative strategies to improve patient care delivery. We often look to technological solutions to solve operational problems that will help nurses more effectively and efficiently perform their jobs. If the medication delivery system doesn’t work, we implement bar coding to improve the medication administration process. If patient falls increase, we install bed alarms. If decubitus ulcer levels rise, we lease the most modern high-tech patient bed that reduces the likelihood of skin breakdown. Though these examples are appropriate uses of technology and are considered best practice, we should only implement them as methods with which to solve issues, not quick fixes to magically effect change.

It’s imperative that we use the tools of technology to enhance human interactions, not deteriorate them. As a nurse leader, your primary responsibility is to communicate with staff. One such method might be to establish e-mail accounts for your employees, which will allow you to rapidly inform, educate, and interact with them. Although many organizations have successfully implemented this technology and experienced enhanced outcomes, we need to realize that applying this form of communication doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to have one-on-one interactions with employees.

Technology significantly impacts the way we deliver care. Nurses commonly use automatic blood pressure cuffs, tympanic thermometers, and monitoring equipment that can produce lifesaving data. We need to educate our staff to gather these data while simultaneously maintaining intimate interactions with patients. Many of us have witnessed clinical situations in which patients experienced fatal events—even though all of their “numbers” fell well within normal limits. Vigilance will allow us to use technology as a supplement to care, not a substitute for it.

Far too frequently we implement technology to conceal flaws in practice. When nurses fail to document according to standard, it’s easy to blame the clinical information system rather than conducting an analysis to determine the real reason for noncompliance. Is the workload too large? Does staff need further education on the necessity of appropriate documentation? If a technological system operates as an overlay rather than an enhancement to care, the outcomes will be far less optimistic, resulting in minimal changes to patient care. We’ll only enhance care delivery if we remember the underlying reason for technology—the patient.

© 2004 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.