How the Internet Has Changed Nursing
Nursing informatics has caught the wave of the Web
It’s clear that we’ve not just entered the Information Age — we’ve exploded into it. Information exchange is critical to both the advancement of science and patient care, and the impact of the Internet in the medical field has been enormous. Practitioners are now able to jump the barrier of time and access research findings worldwide; and in nursing it’s caused the creation of an entire subspecialty (nursing informatics) meant to manage the amount of information available.
But nurses studying informatics aren’t he only ones finding ways to improve their skills by surfing the web. According to a survey of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, more than 98 percent of nurses responded that they use the Internet or email. The survey continued to ask in what way the Internet was used, and the answers may surprise you.
No More Pencils, No More Books
Beginning with nursing education, students everywhere have access to virtual classrooms and degree programs. Online education means that the limits previously imposed by location and time become less important. Busy students with a computer, or those in the workforce trying to fit school into their already packed schedule, should be able to find a few hours at home for study.
Similarly, many states now require continuing education (CE) for licensing. Nursing needing those hours can get them without leaving home, which in many cases removes important constraints such as child care. Sites such as WorldWideLearn.com allow the student 24/7 access to courses and technical support. Employers can select educational seminars and show them in real time in a conference room or select courses that have been archived for their nurses to watch later.
Nurses were instrumental in developing accredited online continuing education for Wild Iris Medical Education. The company established the site Nursing Continuing Education to help nurses (and other health professionals) across all 50 states fulfill CE requirements. Prices range from free to $65 depending on the individual requirement and number of contact hours offered. Fees can be paid with a credit card — how else? — online.
For those nurses who are pretty comfortable with technology, podcasts are another avenue to investigate. Similar to audio versions of magazines, they can be heard on MP3 players for up-to-date information. Check out PodFeed.net and searching “nursing” or listen to “Nursing Education on the Go” at Podcast Alley.
Somewhat similar to podcasts is streaming radio, or radio shows that are available worldwide. AM/FM radio is usually limited by geographical distance, but streaming radio listeners only need access to the web, some free software to download, and a set of speakers.
Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA, is a nurse educator in the metro-NYC area and host of “Health in 30,” which airs live at 5:30pm on Fridays on WRCR-AM 1300. Ms. Ficarra lines up expert guests for her weekly show, announces the topic ahead of time, and fields questions as they are phoned in. Without the Internet her show could only be heard locally, but the vast audience afforded by online listeners has enabled her to win wider recognition. In fact, in 2007, she won the Excellence in Journalism award given by the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Nursing blogs are web logs and can range from silly to academic. Just as journals are intimate thoughts, blogs can detail nursing practice issues, patient stories, fears, triumphs or even family and leisure activity. Blogs allow nurses to vent their frustrations to their peers and share valuable resources for patient care. Following a few favorites allows you to peer into the mind of the writer. The ability to comment allows you to enter into an electronic relationship that nurses in remote areas may treasure. Certainly information about individual patients must protect their identity, but sharing the means of resolving practice issues helps to improve practice standards everywhere.
According to Family Nurse Practitioner Roseann Neuberg, the impact brought by the Internet to her clinical nursing practice is “huge,” and she identifies it as a valuable source of patient education material. “There are just so many things I can do in terms of patient education,” she says. “I can look up issues or treatments while my patient is sitting right next to me. I can print it up, hand it out, and be sure that they understand what I’m saying before they leave. When I prescribe a medication I can check the price and look for alternatives. I can even use a program to check for drug interactions.”
Tracy Plaskett, a staff nurse at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, says, “When I get my patient assignment, I’m able to look up any unfamiliar terms in the notes instantly. I can check spellings and make sure that medication orders are correct.”
Ms. Neuberg is quick to point out that she sticks with sites she knows are accurate and updated frequently in order to feel confident that the advice she is giving is sound. Two such sites are UpToDateOnline.com and Epocrates.com, which provide current information about clinical management and treatment of disease. Both require a subscription and password.
Lynda O’Grady, RN, has found another important use of the Internet. Ms. O’Grady is part of a large travel medicine clinic, assessing international travelers who participate in academic programs, sometimes to remote and disease-infested areas. Using special software she’s able to assess their individual medical risks. If she has questions she can access advice from organizations like the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. But what she finds most helpful is her membership in the International Society of Travel Medicine. Through a listserv available only to members she’s able to gain up-to-the-minute answers to questions posed, such as, “Where is the nearest medical clinic to Daar es Salaam?” or, “What do you recommend for altitude sickness for a patient allergic to sulfa?” Thousands of members pose and answer questions for each other, some providing clinical advice that only a person actually living in that area might be able to give.
Support Groups for Patients
Nurses may want to suggest online communities to patients experiencing chronic illness or going through debilitating treatments. Immune-compromised patients may be unable to attend in-person meetings, but staying in touch with a virtual group may allow them to feel less isolated. CancerCare is one professional association that helps organize free groups for patients as well as their caregivers. Virtual communities and forums have been vital to patients sharing treatment experience and offering support to each other.
The Internet can be used in a novel way for clinical consults. One home care nurse described how she and her colleagues became discouraged trying to evaluate decubiti. When described in the paper chart by different clinicians using different languages or terms it was often difficult to determine if progress was being made. Solution? They used a digital camera to capture an image that could be sent daily via the web to the practitioner. In this case a picture really was worth a thousand words.
Work-related issues can be shared via the Internet. Nurses interested in relocating can do a web search to conduct virtual tours of hospitals they might be interested in, file an application online, get driving directions, or book travel plans through a travel site such as Velocity. When looking to change jobs they can post their resume online. Even low-cost phone communication can be run through Vonage or Skype — both require an Internet connection and headset instead of a phone line or cell phone.
The Internet facilitates a feeling of community and can create the ability to investigate job issues easily. Union members can use online forums to discuss contract negotiation issues, salary, benefits and legal information. New healthcare legislation and practice agreements, as well as regulatory mandates, can be tracked through blog sites. There is just no excuse now for remaining uninformed.
Brian Short, RN, discovered the importance of a nursing community over a decade ago. When Mr. Short was still a nursing student, he created AllNurses.com for the purpose of online support and education. Two years ago the site claimed to cover 400 nursing topics every day and a total of 1.5 million posts. In an interview given at the time of its 10th anniversary, Teresa Burgess, RN, pointed out the importance of the online nursing community for its ability to be used for mentoring and creating a sense of shared purpose.
Let’s end with a word of warning, however, when it comes to using the Internet. While the examples given prove that use of the Internet can be beneficial to nursing practice, we must all bear in mind that much of what we find there remains anonymous and subject to scrutiny.
Our own critical thinking must be used to determine when and how best to use the available information, and to evaluate the value and truth of what we read. Certainly if what we find can nudge us toward being better health professionals, then the monthly cost of Internet service and the time spent in connection with others is well worth it.
Useful Nursing Blogs
Useful Nursing Websites
www.nlm.nih.gov: A service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health
www.cdc.gov: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.healthfinder.gov: Part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
www.familydoctor.org: Health information from the American Academy of Family Physicians
www.webmd.com: Provides a wide range of articles and blogs, message boards and a symptom checker
www.nursingadvocacy.org: Dedicated to increasing the public’s understanding of nursing
Christine Contillo, RN, BSN, has worked as a nurse since 1979 and has written extensively for various nursing publications, as well as The New York Times.