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A 20 Years Nurse’s Perspective on AI in Healthcare

A 20 Years Nurse’s Perspective on AI in Healthcare

It’s astonishing to think about how far AI has come in healthcare. As a brand new nurse in 2001, I was just at the beginning of an era of major change. Back in 2004 I was a Medical/Surgical nurse in a rural hospital. We were communicating patient information via paper charts and following doctors’ orders, which were very hard to read at times. It sometimes took a few nurses to interpret them. We had Cerner EHR (Electronic Health Record), but its capabilities were limited. We basically could input vital signs and see what medications were due. Surprisingly, we were one of the first hospitals in the area to implement this technology.

Back then, doctors led the way in patient care. Other than nearby hospitals, there wasn’t much competition. People weren’t as likely to “google” their symptoms. And there were hardly any smaller practices that offered alternative services. Insurance companies pretty much told the patient what doctors they could see. Consumer expectations have definitely shifted, and hospitals are doing their part to keep patients from going elsewhere. Take Mayo Clinic, for example, where they offer Integrative Medicine and Health services to support your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Why get your care from a private practice when you can receive herbs, supplements, massage, and acupuncture right at Mayo?

Mayo Clinic By Leslie Beasley
Photo By Leslie Beasley On Unsplash

As an OB nurse since 2008, I’ve seen changes in prenatal care, as well as labor and delivery. Many hospitals have allowed pregnant patients to receive prenatal care in the comfort of their own homes. These moms-to-be are sent home with a doppler device to listen to the fetal heartbeat and a blood pressure cuff. They are able to place these results into their portal to communicate with the care team. If there are any concerns, they need to come in. This is happening in more ways than one. Many tasks can now be accomplished end-to-end via call center and web AI assistants. Gone are the days when you had to stew on hold for 30 minutes just to make an appointment. With intelligent AI agents at your service, it takes seconds to refill your prescriptionsfind a provider, or reschedule your appointment.

Fifteen years ago, induction of labor was typically only attempted upon medical necessity. There were a few instances where a patient may have chosen to be induced, but only because of needs such as major mental health issues or military deployment. Now, patients can select this option because they are tired of being pregnant as long as they’re 39 weeks along! This sometimes leads to more prolonged inductions. As we know, Mother Nature plays a pretty big role in labor. We can give all the medications and try different procedures to induce, but if it’s not the right time, adverse outcomes can happen.

All AI Is Not Created Equal

Even though it was developed by humans, AI has surpassed the expectations of its original intent. It’s changing the playing field in so many ways and providing patients with the ultimate experience. Not only can providers utilize it for earlier diagnosis of diseases and the development of treatment plans, but its accuracy is proven to be better than humans. For instance, research conducted in South Korea demonstrated that AI outperformed radiologists in detecting breast cancer, achieving a 90% accuracy compared to the radiologists’ 74%.

Bigger hospitals are really embracing AI these days, and even smaller ones are incorporating sophisticated tools like integrated search engines into their Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems. This means nurses and doctors can access patient information much more quickly, saving them significant time. Additionally, all EHR systems include a Medication Administration Record, which serves as a crucial safeguard against medication errors. For instance, hard stops prevent nurses from administering medication prematurely. Larger healthcare facilities are taking it up a notch with AI, using robots to assist with tasks such as medication distribution and linen delivery and offering virtual language interpretation services. These AI upgrades are a game-changer, making life way easier for busy hospital staff.

While most people receiving care adapt well to these changes, there are still challenges. Baby Boomers seem to especially suffer. Many still don’t have smartphones or know how to use them. Even if they do, they may find it challenging to navigate their portal. Some prefer to talk on the phone, and many providers simply don’t have time for this. It’s really up to nurses and doctors to help our elders. There are so many valuable tools and adaptive measures to help them through the challenges. But it’s up to them to accept these changes and face them head-on. I’ve definitely seen a shift, and more folks are getting smartphones and even enjoying them.

Smartwatches have become increasingly popular among many individuals, offering a range of useful features. They can now transmit vital health information, including blood glucose readings, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels, directly into the patient’s Electronic Health Record (EHR). This data plays a significant role in shaping personalized treatment plans, encompassing dietary adjustments, exercise routines, and medication regimens. Particularly for individuals with limited mobility, this integration proves invaluable, as it minimizes the need for frequent visits to the doctor’s office.

The Next 20 Years

We are only beginning to understand all of the capabilities of AI. Whether it be a cure for diseases like diabetes and cancer or ways for patients battling mental illness to add virtual reality to their treatment, AI is already here. As AI develops over the next 20 years, we can expect to see even more amazing breakthroughs that will improve our lives in ways we can only imagine. Picture AI-powered doctors using vast datasets to create personalized treatment plans or self-driving cars to eliminate traffic accidents altogether. The possibilities are endless.

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About the author

Lacy Nesler, RN, brings a unique perspective to healthcare. With experience at both Mayo Clinic and as a travel nurse, she's seen the industry from every angle. Lacy's not just passionate about patient care, she's fascinated by healthcare technology, especially how artificial intelligence (AI) can improve the field. When she's not working, you'll find her on her Minnesota ranch raising beef cattle.