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12th May 2016

Celebrating International Nurses Day with a vision for the future

\Almost 200 years after Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, revolutionized battlefront healthcare with handwashing, medtech is helping today’s nurses fulfill their mission of care.

Smartphones replaced three-inch thick drug reference books, and apps can find veins and monitor vital signs. Specialist nurses use lasers, radiology equipment, genetic analysis software and minimally invasive surgical techniques. In the future, robots could lift heavy patients, helping nurses avoid injury.

As the world marks International Nurses Day on May 12, the 196th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth, This Is Medtech interviewed one of her most articulate modern counterparts to see how technology intersects nursing today.

Somewhat as Nightingale gave up her sheltered, comfortable upper-class life to work on the front lines of war, Theresa Brown left a sought-after job as a university English professor to work one-on-one with cancer patients. During a difficulty pregnancy, she came to admire the midwives who cared for her, and decided she would rather care for people than grade them. It is a decision she has never regretted.

“Teaching literature has a lot to do with thinking about humanity and what it is that makes us human,” she once told an interviewer for the Pittsburg City Paper. And she found that same humanity in nursing.

Brown kept writing after becoming a nurse. In columns for the New York Times and in two books, she tells stories of nurses and patients struggling to maintain their dignity in a system that sometimes seems bent on ignoring it. To honor nurses’ commitment to patients facing illness and death, we asked Brown how technology could help. No. 1 on her wish list: tablets with user-friendly software, so that nurses can spend more time connecting with patients.

“We need really simplified software so that you don’t just sit there and squint and look at a whole lot of dropdown menus,” she said. While statistics have vastly improved the science of healthcare, record-keeping can still interfere with care.

“We’re constantly getting pulled away,” she said. “Sometimes a patient just needs you to be there.”

Better financial analysis would help, too. “There’s a business case for appropriate staffing,” she said. For example, nurses save hospitals money by preventing infections and falls. “Making things work for nurses is very important to the workings of a hospital.”

Some of Brown’s ideas don’t involve technology or money. . For example, she’d like both doctors and nurses to go by their given names. “I don’t mind being Nurse Theresa, but I do mind being Nurse Theresa if it’s Dr. Smith.” For Brown, shared humanity is what counts in the end. She began working as a home hospice nurse two years ago, and is writing a third book about her experiences.