The digital revolution might have begun all the way back in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until 1991, when CERN’s web browser software was released for public use and the .com era began, that it truly took the world by storm. Digitization has impacted every single sector. It has brought us together and has completely changed the way humans engage and interact with each other and the world at large.

Humanity is incredibly connected, with information exchange occurring at staggering rates that the brain just cannot compute. What this means for healthcare is simple; greater tools, greater assets, and more complications.

Telehealth has been rising in recent years, and the pandemic has caused it to truly start being adopted and appreciated by patients around the world. While security and privacy are still concerns, the convenience and potential of telehealth is enormous.

With telehealth, patients can be monitored remotely. Their vitals, or whatever metric their personal medical wear relays, will be sent to a medical professional. A system can notify the professional if the vitals read out of the scope of normal as well, allowing the medical community to act on the first changes before even the patient themselves notice a difference.

While computers and systems like this sound like they will replace jobs, the opposite is actually true. Telehealth will work to improve healthcare access to millions, meaning that the existing shortage that we see in healthcare today will only increase.

Which role will be the most pivotal in the adoption of telehealth? Nursing. Nurses, especially highly qualified nurses like FNPs, will be essential in providing care remotely through telehealth and remote monitoring.

Digitization has unequivocally changed how patients experience healthcare, but it has done more than that as well. It has changed nursing, from the way that new nurses work towards their next degree to even the roles that are now available to them.

Digitization has changed nursing, and it will continue to push the envelope of nurse training, responsibilities, and possibilities now and into the future:

Nursing and Education: A History

To understand just how drastically digitization has altered nursing education, we need to look at the history of nursing as a whole. Despite the importance of nurses, for example, the nursing profession only really began in the early to mid-1800s, and it wasn’t until Florence Nightingale that nurses started to be appreciated. Until her “Notes on Nursing”, published 1859, there had not been any instruction manual for nurse training, and one year later, the first nursing school in the UK was opened to great success.

It didn’t take long for nursing education to be adopted in the United States, but the first university program didn’t begin until 1909, and even then, it wasn’t until 1923 that the Goldman Report concludes that nurses should, ideally, be trained in a university setting.

Despite this, it took several decades for diploma programs to die out, mostly due to the war effort, where field nurses needed to be trained and be trained fast.

Replacing the diploma was the Associate’s Degree in Nursing (a degree that is now being widely phased out). Though popular, the importance of the BSN as a minimum educational requirement for an RN was noted all the way back in 1982, which was reaffirmed in 2010, when the landmark report, The Future of Nursing, provided concrete evidence of the benefits of BSN-educated nurses over ADN-educated nurses.

Today many states are pushing for at least 80% of their RNs to hold a BSN degree, with some states considering new laws to force existing ADN-RNs to earn their BSN.

This push for highly educated nurses is because the improvement of patient outcomes was drastic. A 10% increase in BSN-RNs on staff was linked to an 11% reduction in health issues. Hospitals that have higher populations of BSN-RNs have lower rates of specific condition mortality and an overall shorter stay period per patient.

Having more BSNs on staff also reduced readmission rates by 80%.

On top of it all, of course, BSN nurses are prepared to further their education with an MSN, whereas those with an ADN will need to first fast-track a BSN and then get their MSN.

Despite the obvious importance of BSN-qualified nurses, there is a rising shortage of RNs, especially with a massive one million RNs expecting to retire by 2029. Taking time off work to pursue a degree is not feasible. Going to night school forces nurses to choose from limited options and also makes it difficult for nurses with other personal responsibilities.

The rising solution? Online education.

Online Education in Nursing

Online education has been around for three decades at this point, but adoption has only been relatively recent. Today, a third of all students will take at least one degree online, and most of those who are taking courses online are mature students who have jobs, children, or other pressing responsibilities.

It took years for nursing schools to start to offer online education, but now it is the preferred option for nurses. It allows them to study while working to continue to provide for themselves and their families and help others.

During a pandemic, where every healthcare worker pulled twice their weight, the ability to juggle an education around their professional responsibilities has never been more apparent.

Online education is done through an innovative use of tools and often does not require mandatory login times. They are designed for working nurses and are available at all levels.

You can earn your BSN online. You can earn an accelerated BSN online. You can even go from a BSN to MSN FNP online.  There are DNP programs that allow you to earn your MSN and DNP in one single attempt, and many other options are available.

Tools Used by Online Educators

There are many factors that must be considered and covered when it comes to providing an effective online education. Just as businesses have worked to recreate much of the company culture and collaborative environment of an office through digital platforms, so too much an effective digital education.

While instructor presence is a critical factor when it comes to the success of online study, the tools and digital environment used by universities will also play a part in the success of translating the educational environment online.

It isn’t enough to offer an online degree, after all. Institutions must contend with issues such as isolation, lack of engagement, technical challenges, and low motivation amongst their students.

Every online degree should include a comprehensive online onboarding process, which goes through all of the features of the platform in question and provides suggestions and strategies to perform better with online education. Students also need technical support from the university so that any glitch or issue can be immediately reported and workarounds can occur.

Wellbeing services are also vital when it comes to the success of an online education. All universities today have health and mental health services, though each institution’s success with these services will vary.  Offering digital versions of these services and career support and placement services is an essential component to a successful digital environment.

Flexibility and responsiveness are also key, particularly with nursing degrees where working nurses may have irregular hours or may be taking overtime in order to help manage the flood of patients that have increased during the pandemic.

Even with the success of current digital degrees, future innovation will continue to be necessary. This isn’t just because online degrees are, on the whole, still a relatively new concept. Technology is in constant flux between new updates, new technologies, and new possibilities. Every year new phones come out, better than the last. The same applies to personal computers, tablets, and so on. What this means is that each year there is a new set of options and hardware to adapt to.

On top of ensuring that the existing tools are compatible with the next generation, data must be taken from previous years and used towards innovation. Students deserve a more intuitive system and platform from which to learn, especially as they become accustomed to innovation in other areas of their lives.

Automation and Nursing

While there will always be the need for nurses, automation does have its place, and it will help improve patient care and quality of life across the board. It is relatively simple to have a machine monitor vitals and make sure that they remain within certain parameters, either standard parameters or a custom setting. Only when an issue occurs will the software then send out a warning code.

This is standard practice within hospitals, but it can be extended elsewhere, including the home. With monitoring medical equipment, particularly combined with wearable tech, medical monitoring can be done easily and securely. Professionals will only be notified when an anomaly happens, at which point more hands-on medicine will be required.

Though automation has many uses both within hospitals and without, it is the combination between automation and telehealth services where true innovation is happening – and the people behind it all? Nurses.

Doctors and physicians are absolutely going to be a critical component, but nurses are the primary point of care – especially APRNs. It is, therefore, nursing that is set to change the most due to automation and also due to telehealth.

Telehealth and Nursing

Telehealth is the way forward for the healthcare industry. It tackles many of the common issues of today, and its largescale adoption in recent years is a direct consequence of the pandemic.

Benefits of Telehealth

The first and most notable benefit is the ability to offer remote care. The remote care that can be offered can range from simple tasks. Give all patients an online portal that they can securely login to, and they can digital set up appointments, manage those appointments, request prescription refills, and more.

This is the bare-bones level of telehealth.

The next level is to offer virtual or video appointments. This connects those who cannot easily visit the clinics or hospitals and those who live in rural areas to get the health care they deserve.

From there, telehealth can offer expert monitoring. By providing patients at risk or who are currently diagnosed with a lifelong condition with the appropriate monitoring tools that automatically upload information or provide readings for the patients to upload themselves, they can care for their health and keep healthcare professionals (nurses) in the loop.

Why Nursing is the Power Behind Telehealth?

The reason why telehealth is mostly a branch of medicine that nurses will engage in is simple: it is preventative health first and foremost. Doctors will be available to call in when issues arise, but the bulk of monitoring and patient care will be in the hands of our expert nurses.

This is going to be a challenge to fill, of course. There is already a shortage of nurses and primary care physicians. By adding telehealth facilities, the patient list will only grow. That is why digital education is so important for the future of healthcare and nursing. Yes, all digital nursing degrees include clinical hours on-site, but other than that overall brief period it means that nurses can continue to work and train. This will work to offset and grow the nursing population in the United States.

Where Digitization will Take Nursing in the Future

From new roles to new training opportunities, there are so many different ways that digitization is set to change nursing as a whole. The ultimate goal is, of course, to offer more roles and a greater work/life balance to nurses so that they don’t constantly feel overworked and underpaid.

Digitization will work to make their day more efficient and to further improve the quality of care that patients experience. When it comes to managing the nursing shortage, improving the workload, improving part-time training opportunities, and also providing new working opportunities for nurses are all future trends set to change the way nursing is currently managed.

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