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Nurses and technology meet at an uneasy crossroads

Some students in the next generation of budding clinicians already view EHRs as an intrusion to patient care, so they must step up to better reshape future technology.

I ran into a nursing student who, in between taking her final year of classes, also works a part-time night shift in the step-down ICU at Boston Medical Center.

The night before I talked with her, she helped mend a patient with more than a dozen gunshot wounds -- so this up-and-coming nurse keeps busy.

Our conversation turned toward nurses and technology, and when I mentioned electronic health records (EHR) systems, she unleashed on me.

"I don't want to spend more time holding a device and looking at it while I'm seeing a patient," she said. She lamented that many primary care physicians stare at computer screens during annual checkups instead of looking at their patients' faces.

Epic CEO talks of ‘too much data'

For doctors and nurses, technology overload is a problem this student thinks about, and by the sounds of it, that notion is also not lost on Judy Faulkner, CEO of Epic Systems, the largest EHR vendor.

In a recent interview with Healthcare Transformation, Faulkner fielded a question about how doctors will work differently in the future.

Boston hospital explains the challenges of its EHR installation.

"On the technology side, there will be many helpful new inventions that most of us cannot even predict yet -- little technologies, nanotechnologies and other capabilities that we do not even know what they are, but they are going to be interesting," she said. "We cannot overload the doctors, so the IT systems are going to have to take a lot of that information and be able to digest it so we do not overwhelm the physician with too much data coming in."

The challenge of how to improve health IT to work better for end users is a task that the EHR generation of clinicians will need to focus on. Some of them are already thinking in that direction.

Nurses and technology forge a path

For example, the nursing student I talked with told me that her friend is also pursuing a nursing degree, but plans to augment it with studies in computer coding and analytics.

The friend wants to play a role in the next edition of EHRs, whatever those systems may look like, and she correctly figures that the only way to improve the dynamic between doctors, nurses and technology is to understand what clinicians need first from the technology.

For me, in that blip of conversation, the future of health IT seemed a little more focused in younger hands.

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