Devices & Technology

Will Wearable Technology Become Part of the Nurse's Uniform?

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By Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom, contributor

August 12, 2014 - From the futuristic-looking Google Glass to smart watches, activity monitors and sleep sensors, wearable technology devices are infiltrating the health care setting at a rapid pace. With promises of improved patient outcomes, reduced costs, increased mobility and better communication, they also open up a world of possibilities for nurses and how they may perform their jobs in the years ahead.

A 2013 report by IHS Electronics & Media estimates the market for wearable technology will climb to almost $20 billion in the United States alone by 2015.

Wearable technology, especially Google Glass, is already being embraced by physicians in many of the nation’s top facilities, and nurses are poised to be the next clinicians to adopt the technology. Doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, Mass., have made headlines recently for their usage of Google Glass in the emergency department and operating room.

Jane Englebright, HCA: Wearable technology can benefit nurses.
Jane Englebright, PhD, RN, FAAN, is dedicated to promoting technology that will benefit HCA’s nurses and their patients.

By partnering with innovative technology startup Wearable Intelligence, the makers of Google Glass, physicians at BIDMC are able to scan a barcode on the wall that immediately transmits vital patient information--such as allergies, medication regimens, vital signs and lab results--directly to their field of vision.

The ability of Google Glass to provide doctors and nurses with real-time patient information holds great potential for health care’s future. Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Ind., Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, R.I., UC-Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., and Yale New Haven Health System in New Haven, Conn., are a few other facilities either utilizing or piloting Google Glass.

In a recent blog post, John Halamka, MD, chief information officer of BIDMC, said he believes that wearable computing devices such as Google Glass will eventually replace tablets for clinicians who need instant, hands-free access to information.

Jane Englebright, PhD, RN, FAAN, chief nurse executive, patient safety officer and vice president at Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), explained how an innovation challenge she conducted last summer brought many new ideas to the forefront surrounding wearable technology.

“We got staff nurses from as many of our hospitals that wanted to participate together for a webinar,” she said. “We played the Google Glass video and then we asked them to take note cards with them to their next two shifts and every time they came across something in their work environment where they thought technology could make it better, they were to write it down. Then we collected all of the input from about 700 nurses who participated.”

The main theme that emerged from the experiment was that nurses need mobile solutions and technology that can work with them as they move around and do patient care.

“We’ve been exploring a lot of things along those lines,” Englebright said. “I think some sort of wearable technology is in our future. I am not sure Google Glass is it, but I have been wearing the Gear Watch [Samsung Galaxy’s smartwatch], and I think wearables will definitely have a place in our future.”

Google Glass is still in the beta stage and currently costs $1,500. Wearable technology that is more readily available to consumers and health care professionals, such as personal fitness and activity trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone UP, may not be designed for patient care applications, but they can help nurses track their mobility and nutrition intake throughout the day as well as sleep quality at night.

As a leading provider of health care services, HCA employs more than 60,000 RNs and is comprised of locally managed facilities that include about 165 hospitals and 115 freestanding surgery centers in 20 states and in England. The company produced a popular Youtube video in February, “The Future of HCA Nursing--Wearable Technology Vision,” which looked at how wearable technology will change the way health care is delivered and processed.

Although nurses are not currently utilizing this wearable technology, Englebright said the video was created as a way to spark discussion and innovative thinking around this important topic.

“We are very intrigued by wearables and think they hold a lot of promise for nursing,” Englebright explained.

In addition to the ideas generated from the innovation challenge, the HCA is testing a robot that cleans patient rooms as well as the technology that logs a caregiver's use of the hand sanitizer pump each time they enter the room.

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