Devices like FitBit, Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP, and Google Glass are all the rage now. In fact, technology analysts estimate that wearable tech devices will become a $50 billion industry within the next five years. That statistic refers to the consumer market, of course, but many healthcare industry insiders believe that wearables will move quickly into the healthcare workplace, just as smartphones did.
Wearable technologies are making rapid progress from the research stage to practical applications, and are leveraging advances made in areas like voice recognition, biometrics, and messaging. At some point, it’s possible that wearable technology will become an integral part of your nursing uniform, like your smart badge may already be.
According to a paper published in the journal Methods of Information in Medicine, wearables can be broadly defined as “mobile electronic devices that can be unobtrusively embedded in the user’s outfit as part of the clothing or an accessory” and employed without hindering the user’s activities. They are context sensitive – meaning they are able to recognize user activity and/or the surrounding situation. And they are part of an ongoing trend known as ubiquitous computing that refers to the proliferation of smart devices in our lives.
There are several ways in which nurses might use wearable devices to increase their own job satisfaction and enhance the care they provide. Here are some of the areas that have been identified for new uses of the technology:
- Nurse fatigue. The Joint Commission has identified fatigue as a risk factor in patient safety. Sensors embedded in wristbands or sewn into nursing uniforms could potentially track levels of alertness and sleepiness, allowing a nurse manager to actively monitor the overall “health” of the workforce – and possibly send an exhausted nurse home to rest.
- Communications. Devices like smartwatches could allow nurses to use voice commands or gestures to quickly send updates, reminders, or alerts to other clinicians via text message or email – all without having to fumble for a handheld device. This could be especially useful in settings where teams of providers have to mobilize quickly, like the emergency department. (It could also contribute to a quieter hospital environment overall, which has been shown to increase patient satisfaction.)
- Patient information. As a nurse, you know that having access to the right information at the right time is critical. It’s been proposed that nurses of the future may wear a device similar to Google Glass that displays patient records and/or vital signs on the lens, upon entering a patient’s room. This short video gives an idea of what it might look like. A wearable device might also alert a nurse of a sudden change in patient status, which could contribute to a faster response and better outcome.
- Personal virtual assistant. What if you had a wearable device that could remind you of appointments and meetings, take notes during professional discussions, and pull up data quickly on demand, without requiring the use of two hands? It’s also been suggested that virtual assistants could contribute to patient safety by reminding nurses of specific steps or pitfalls while they’re performing a procedure.
As consumer-oriented technologies become more ubiquitous, tech-savvy nurses may be called upon to support patient engagement initiatives by teaching patients how to use their own wearable technology to improve health and wellness. Wearables can help patients make better choices about nutrition and exercise, calculate an insulin dose, or remember to take a pill on time.
Of course, there will be issues to overcome and problems to address before wearable tech becomes part of every nurse’s uniform. Employees don’t want their privacy to be invaded through over-monitoring. Patients want their personal data to remain secure. Tech vendors will have to design wearable systems that can connect with the hospital’s network. And nurse educators will need to develop curriculums that teach practical applications of wearable devices.
If you’re a tech-savvy nurse, have you ever considered specializing in informatics? Health care is in need of nurses who can analyze technologies from both the bedside and IT perspectives, to help create patient-centric tools. An online MSN degree in nursing informatics is the perfect way to improve your knowledge, skills, and value to your organization. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees.