Home » Technology Tools for the Bedside Nurse

Technology Tools for the Bedside Nurse

Creative commons image from flickr user Helge V. Keitel

Bedside nurses have one of the toughest jobs. So why do we get stuck with some of the crappiest technology? I recently had the opportunity to orient to a job on a med-surge floor. Having not worked in a hospital for the past 7 years, I was a little surprised at the lack of basic technologies afforded to nurses at this hospital. There were a few things that bothered me – the big clunky WOWs (workstation on wheels), the broken scanners, supplies that had to be locked up in a cabinet.

But my biggest frustration? I had to carry around an ancient spectralink phone. I couldn’t use it to text, it didn’t record caller ID, and no one could leave a message for me on it. My only option to know what I am being called for is to answer the darn thing. You know what that says to me? As a nurse, I can be interrupted at any point during my shift. Any person that has that number can call me and interrupt me, and I have no choice but to answer that phone.

Think about that for a minute.

What if I have gloves on? Getting a stool sample? Starting an IV?

At one point, I decided that the way to proceed was to not allow myself to be interrupted every.single.time. I was administering meds, and had to stop to help my very unsteady patient to the bedside commode. The phone started ringing and I didn’t answer it.

10 minutes later my preceptor came to find me. “You didn’t answer your phone! You’re supposed to answer your phone every time!” As it turned out, it was a cardiologist trying to tell me that she wanted to change the dose from what the hospitalist had ordered. Unfortunately, I had already given the med. All of this could have been avoided with better technology.

Paging the MD

My preceptor explained to me that in order to page a physician, I had to dial the operator, ask to page the doctor, and give them my spectralink phone number so they could call me back.  “Really? There’s no messaging system through the EMR?”

“Nope, just dial 0 for the operator.”

“Are you sure there’s no way to do it through EPIC?”

She just kind of looked at me as if I had 2 heads and then said very slowly, “No. You need to dial the operator to page a physician.”

I could tell my preceptor was getting frustrated with me, but this was truly hard for me to wrap my brain around. The rest of the world goes about their business using smart phones, but nurses are stuck using technology straight out of the 1970’s. What’s next? Maybe we should go back to giving shift report on tape recorders.

No Caller ID

When people called me, I could see their number, but I couldn’t flip through previous calls to easily call someone back. If an OR nurse calls me to discuss when my patient is going to a procedure, I have to either jot down her number, or memorize it (yeah, right). Otherwise, when I call her back I have to dial the OR’s main extension and wait till someone tracks her down. Think about how much better secure texting would be. “Is your patient ready yet?” “No, they’re getting a bedside echo. You can send for them in about 30 minutes.” You can easily transmit that in a text echange, or the two nurses can play multiple rounds of phone tag.

The thing that surprised me the most was that my co-workers were so lackadaisical about using old technology,  and so many of them were Millennials –  the generation that grew up on computers and mobile technology! But no one seemed bothered by the fact that as nurses, we were using outdated technology to get the job done.

I had to laugh when my preceptor showed me how to order a patient escort for my patient that had been discharged. You enter the request in EPIC and it goes straight to the next patient escort who is available.

“Oh, cool, do they have phones or pagers? How do they get the request?”

“They have iPads.” The patient escorts use iPads to facilitate their work, but the nurses are stuck with the 1990’s cell phones and the workstations on wheels. Sounds about right.