A new trial suggests switching from paper charts to digital handheld devices could save hundreds of lives in British hospitals as highly educated nurses struggle to read traditional paper charts that have been used on wards for decades.
A report by Sky News today claims 750 lives have been saved by nurses using digital devices such as the iPod loaded with special software over the past year in just two hospitals in Coventry and Portsmouth. The software aggregates patient data and vital signs, and automatically warns nurses if patients in their care are in deteriorating condition.
The system, which has been described as “expensive” but praised for cutting mortality rates by 15 percent has been praised by nursing staff. One nurse said: “The old paper charts were very, very difficult to decipher; the crosses, the arrows, written on the chart by the previous nurse. You can’t actually distinguish exactly where the cross is.
“On the new electronic charts everything is colour-coded, you are able to see the previous observations in more detail, more accurately and obviously able to see whether your patient is the same, better or worse”.
The profession of nursing has changed considerably over the past half-century, as it slowly refocused from its traditional vocational role to a more technical one, as the equipment used in hospitals became more sophisticated. The first nursing degree, signifying the complexity of the role, appeared in the 1960s, and as of 2013 all new nurses were required to have a degree to become officially registered.
Professional publication Nursing Times published an article earlier this year asking whether nurses, who have to become expert in an increasing variety of highly complicated machines and gadgets now lacked ‘compassion’, as they traded off caring skills for technical expertise. Health Minister Jeremy Hunt, when speaking about a shake-up to the way nurses were to be trained, said in 2012 that it had become “normal” for patients to be treated with “coldness, resentment, indifference, even contempt” in hospitals.