Technology offers new options in nursing care

Providing patient care to a patient with a rare disease can provide a number of challenges: even more so when that patient is a newborn baby. It’s a difficulty clinical nurse consultant at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Rebecca Saad, knows well.

Saad works in a team helping families whose children have epidermolysis bullosa (EB). Known as ‘‘cotton wool babies’’, the rare skin disease can cause skin that’s so fragile it can be damaged or blistered by heat, rubbing or bumps. So little is known about EB that many health professionals haven’t encountered it, creating education complexities for health providers and patients.

Enter telehealth. This fast-growing area of the health profession uses robust online platforms (Health Direct is one example) which allow patients or clinicians to dial in to a ‘‘virtual waiting room’’ without needing to leave home. It’s like a teleconference, but one that’s secure, monitored and accepted by the Medicare system.

“We can have people in three or four locations able to review wounds and images, give real-life feedback and provide really appropriate care to these patients. It’s been so great,” says Saad.

Telehealth also allows training opportunities for health practitioners, although in this case systems like Skype for business allow Saad to “attend” rounds at a regional hospital from her Sydney base.

“We can upskill other clinicians really quickly so their patients can stay at home. With EB any friction or heat will aggravate the wounds: you can imagine that with a small baby travel will make their condition worse,” she says.

Saad uses a number of other non-face-to-face methods in her clinical work, including photos, emails and texting.

“People send me photos of every dressing change. I know what wounds looked like yesterday and then today,” says Saad.

Nursing has significantly bolstered its use of technology since Saad began in the field in 2001. Although work in areas like rare diseases is not usually the domain of new graduates, and setup of speciality care is more likely to be done by higher-grade, experienced nurses like nurse specialists or nurse consultants, the field’s adaptation of technology is evolving quickly.

“Even four years ago we weren’t using the capacity of what we had available to us. It’s great now: you can now be so inventive and creative and there are so many resources that you can decide what works best.

“We can help patients stay at home. In paediatric care this is so important: keeping the family unit together and reducing the burden of disease reduces parental and sibling stress and allows people to access care faster,” she says.

Study: Bachelor of Health Science or a Bachelor of Nursing. “It’s now the norm for nursing students to learn with technology. Those in the field should look for conferences or study days discussing telehealth,” says Saad.

Skills: Excellent communication skills. “There are particular areas in a hospital that would have more of this care. It would mean moving away from critical and acute care to more complex care and areas like care in the home,” says Saad.

Tips: As these types of roles are usually for professionals with some experience, it can be worth nurses letting other departments in the hospital know you are interested in jobs with a telehealth component. “That way you can start learning more or start backfilling positions,” says Saad.

This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald on www.smh.com.au on 4/7/19 by Sue White.