The Digital World of Nursing

As I sit at home for Thanksgiving break I am surrounded by nurses.  My mom is a nurse, my sister is a nurse and my dog is named nurse.  When my mom and sister get to talking about work I usually find my input to be less than helpful.  Apparently saying “I too was administering shots last week…of Vodka” is not as funny to a nurse as one might think.  So I have learned my lesson to just smile and nod when it comes to these conversations.  This year was a little bit different.  My mom was talking about when she was in nursing school they charted everything by hand.  My newly graduated sister was soon to combat this statement with: “we barely do anything by hand almost everything is computerized”.

Hearing the word computer made my ears perk up, because now they were speaking my language!  I heard them go back and forth on the digitization of working in a hospital and I was absolutely dumbfounded.  I had not realized how much today’s doctors and nursing staff depend on technology.  As my curiosity peaked I decided to ask my sister to walk me through what a day as a nurse looked like and I was astounded.


I asked my sister to elaborate on what she considered to be the most important technologies and devices she uses everyday:

When a nurse comes into work they grab a computer that has a scanner attached to it.  The computer, monitor, and scanner are on top of a wheeled surface that the nurses can easily push around from room to room.   In order to use the computer, and all of its specialties, the nurse logs into the system.  This logging in enables for the system to keep track of what each nurse is doing and what they are administering.  After the nurses are all logged in they go and make rounds.

Savvy in Motion wNurse_302pxW.png

**It is at this point in the daily description that my mom chimed in to talk about how starkly different and paperless today’s nurses are. **

When they enter a patients room each nurse must take the scanner (that is attached to their computer) and scan the patients bar code.  Every patient has an individual and unique barcode.   Once the code is scanned the computer lights up with all the patient information.  It gives the nurse the patients medical history, symptoms, current medication, medication they need, etc.  This system reduces human error.  It not only keeps all the patient information in order it also helps keep some of the nurses accountable.  My mom is the CNO (chief of nursing) at another hospital and said she is always astounded by the number of nurses that try to steal and smuggle drugs out of the hospital.  Knowing that everything is being tracked and can be traced back, has decreased the amount of pharmaceutical theft done by nurses by a large amount.

On the topic of administering drugs, this is also left little to human interaction.  A nurse will administer a patient drugs through a pump.  In order to start the pump the nurse will scan the patients bar code.  Once scanned, the pump will know what medicine and how much to administer to the patient. One of the best parts about the pump, according to the two nurses, is that the pump knows what rate you should be administering the medicine.  There is an incredible amount of room for human error in nursing and a lot of these devices help minimize it.  This not only helps the patients, but it also allows the nurses to get more done and focus more on the patient’s illness than on the small details of filing paper or counting pills.

After learning about all these devices I asked my sister if the machines ever messed up.  We talk a lot about human error but what about machine error?

My sister explained that sometimes the computer does not save the information or drug administration and the nurse will have to go in to document what has been done.  After writing this information down the nurse must create a work order ticket for IT to come in fix.  The funny thing is, my sister and mom said that 9 out of 10 times the scanner or pump is not working is based off a nurses error.

After all this hospital talk, I realized I know so little about the vast reaches and uses of technology.  I was happy to see “my world” colliding and impacting my moms and sisters.  Not only did this discussion give me an incredible respect for medical technology, but also an incredible respect for the hospital staff.  It takes a powerful machine to keep track of information and administer drugs, but it takes an even stronger and powerful nurse to be with the patients and care for each and every one of them.




  1. Actually my doctoral dissertation was about the implementation of electronic medical records at a large hospital. While I am thrilled that the healthcare industry is *finally* catching up, it just seems that they are so painfully behind still. Why roll around huge computer terminals instead of doing everything on an iPad? (I know there are many reasons why is just seems so backwards, but still far ahead of where they were just a little while ago!)

  2. Cool post, its interesting to learn about how tech is being utilized in nursing because its not really the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of this field. These advancements are clearly important as you mention multiple instances where they are reducing human error and improving the industry–I found the example you gave of scanning unique patient barcodes decreasing the amount of pharmaceutical theft particularly interesting. I would also be curious to learn about the different technologies that are used in BC nursing classrooms and how this has evolved throughout the years.

  3. ojeagle121 · ·

    That blend of computers and humans working on a “task” together is an important one. I liked your explanation of reducing human errors and in fact, its usually human error when something goes “wrong with the computer.” As @hollywarendorf said, I would be interested to see what technology is being taught in school vs. what is isolated technology for each individual hospital and different contractors.

  4. emmaelennon · ·

    @geraldckane I find the entire EMR landscape fascinating — touring athenahealth a couple times, one metaphor really stuck with me: why are we able to take out money basically anywhere in the world, from any atm, while I can’t even go to a hospital down the street and have my medical records easily accessible, most of the time?

    @juliahackett18, in terms of the hardware in hospitals, I hadn’t thought about theft — that’s really interesting and I would love to see some statistics on that. Between your mom and your sister’s experiences, I wonder how hospitals are educating management to bridge this gap in knowledge/perceptions re: tech and ensure that the tech is being used consistently to improve patient outcomes and experiences.

  5. This was a great post-I am definitely closer to speaking your language of computers than anything medical. With that being said, you put nursing language into english and I really enjoyed your post and learning about technology in the medical field. I agree with Prof. Kane, an iPad per nurse or per room could make it much more efficient. Some of those machines are massive and difficult to maneuver throughout a hospital, especially when it’s urgent. In this industry, when sometimes cases are life or death, it’s vital technology is the most up to date. Also, as Emma said above, I was fascinated by the nurse theft epidemic, I have never heard of that before and would also love to learn more about it. Great post!

  6. s_courtney18 · ·

    Great blog post Julia! This is a prime example of how tech/AI can be paired with human intelligence to get even better work done than just humans or computers alone. With nursing especially, everything is so reliant on small details and decisions that are executed with precision, with little room for error. It’s awesome that such tech can decrease human error, but I do agree that it is still lagging far behind where it should be. Now that (at least some) hospitals are implementing such technology, hopefully it’ll become easier to add more digital tech to piggy back off of these digital platforms over time.

  7. britt_hopkins4 · ·

    Love this! My sister is also a nurse and talks about this all the time. When I had a hip surgery a little over a year ago, I was amazed that they scanned my hospital bracelet and could see everything. They also scanned my IV bag before starting it, and the pills I was on before giving them to me. I was amazed by the technology and how far it has come. However, now that there are robotic surgeries, laser surgery for tonsil removal instead of cauterization, and mostly arthroscopic surgeries, I am not surprised. Contrary to a tweet by a class member earlier, I don’t think these jobs will ever get taken over by robots. I don’t think a robot will ever be able to put an IV into a patient successfully, etc. In addition, I am not surprised by the nurses stealing drugs from the hospital. I’ve heard of these stories many times before, but more in the sense that nurses have taken doctors’s prescription pads and written fake ones for opioids. More to combat!

  8. paulandresonbc · ·

    Cool post. Nice to hear about all of the many ways that technology is able to reduce the amount of human error – this is especially important in any field of medicine as it cuts down on deaths. I wonder how much different the nursing landscape was back in the day when all of this information was recorded by hand.

  9. mgiovanniello · ·

    Really interesting post! Both of my parents are in the medical field, and as I was growing up, I naturally thought I’d want to follow in their footsteps. While I later found a passion for tech, I’ve had a number of jobs and internships in the healthcare technology field, and I think the intersection of these two fields is fascinating. The story you tell about your mom and sister transitioning to digital records reminds me a lot of my internship at a local hospital three years ago; I joined their Informatics team as they were rolling out a new electronic medical records (EMR) system across the ~10,000 employee hospital. It was a huge undertaking, and a lot of the older nurses and doctors were especially hesitant. It was fascinating to learn about the old world of paper records and seeing how the implementation of a computerized system drastically changed how the way they take care of patients! Thanks for sharing your story.

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