March 2, 2015

RX for Health Care: Nursing as a Force for Change

May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, is celebrated around the world as International Nurses Day. According to the International Council of Nurses, this year’s theme is “Nurses: A Force for Change.”

Florence Nightingale found her calling by revolutionizing nursing care of wounded soldiers during the Crimean War of 1854. She dedicated her life to campaigning for change in hospital sanitation and medical care in general, making her a force for change by anyone’s measure. Her book Notes on Nursing, published 155 years ago, continues to be the gold standard on nursing care for the profession.

It’s a particularly timely topic given the rapidly changing health care system in the U.S. and the more than 7 million newly insured Americans. As our global population starts to age, health care as a business is growing rapidly. The rise of local clinics offering ambulatory services and new models of care, such as medical homes, is an outcome of greater demand for services by an aging population. Already the shortage of primary care physicians is being felt.

To help fill that gap, the role of the nurse practitioner will continue to expand. Recruiting, training and then retaining enough nurses will be crucial. Programs such as the Nurse Faculty Leadership Academy, a 22-month program from Sigma Theta Tau, the Nursing Honor Society, encourages nurses to remain in the profession and lead others to do the same.

Investing in continuing education for nurses is also vital if we are to ensure that they continue to provide the best patient care possible. One important facet is leveraging the tools to manage the millions of pages and terabytes of the most current research available. More importantly, health and medical professionals need their information “in the workflow” — that is, in the most convenient, easily accessible way that improves but doesn’t interfere with the ongoing treatment of the patient.

But information is one thing. Using it to its best advantage is quite another. More importantly, being able to trust the source of information is vital. Search engines are adequate enough for the casual self-diagnosis, but they fall short of the sophisticated interdisciplinary knowledge of treatments and equally sophisticated processes required to ensure quality care. There are thousands of journals publishing new research papers every day; Elsevier alone publishes about 2,200 journals! New drugs are approved while old ones are discontinued. Studies on new drug discoveries, possible interactions and new uses for existing drugs are regularly announced. And because illness and acute care does not adhere to a standard 9-to-5 workday, clinicians need access 24/7 to the very latest data.

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