Nursing has always been a very technically advanced field. The medical arena is often the host for emerging technologies. While this has not always included the use of computers, today computers are an integral part of hospital and private practice culture, and thus of the nursing profession. In some hospitals, specialists are hired who bridge the nursing and information technology world, with specialties in both fields.
Among the first uses for general computers in the medical field was basic patient administration, and they are of course still used for this today. Computer systems are used at patient check-in to store patient contact information, insurance information and pertinent medical history. In larger office and hospital settings, they also control patient flow, keeping track of who is in which room or bed, and which rooms and practitioners are available for routing patients.
Electronic Medical Records
As security standards have been put in place for protecting confidential patient medical data, more and more hospitals and doctors' offices are keeping medical records in electronic form. Not only is this good for the environment, saving millions of reams of paper every year, but electronic records provide information instantly as a patient moves through their care process. Different offices and specialties have instant access to critical data, and nurses can check allergies and other important information with the touch of a button as they make their rounds.
Gone are the days of a nurse having to write out a message, attach it to a patient file or knock on the doctor's door during an exam or procedure. Thanks to computers, inter-office communication is also now instantaneous. Email is used in the medical profession just like many others, and many electronic medical records programs offer a notes feature, allowing notes to be attached to patient files just as handwritten notes once were on hard copy files.
A relative newcomer to hospitals and doctors' offices, handheld devices (PDAs) have quickly caught on as a valuable tool. These pocket-sized computers, running specialized applications, provide instant access anywhere in the facility to patient data. A nurse in the middle of rounds can also ask a doctor a question, attaching relevant patient information, and receive an answer back even if neither person is at their desk.
Imaging equipment, monitors and even some surgical equipment is now controlled entirely by computers. Nurses are trained in reading the output of these precise machines, which have taken much of the human error out of procedures such as X-ray alignment, heart rate monitoring, EKG and blood pressure monitoring. Surgical lasers, once aligned by doctors and nurses, in most cases perform procedures by computer control.