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AI in Nursing: Creating New Healthcare Realities

As a nurse, if you dreamed of having programs, robots, or software that make your nursing responsibilities more manageable and efficient, today, your dreams are becoming a reality with artificial intelligence (AI).

Technology has been part of healthcare services for a long time, and more automated software is already helping clinicians with their administrative responsibilities by reducing the time spent on those activities.

For example, Japan already uses AI robots that help older people with their daily activities in long-term care facilities. AI research has become part of many countries’ policies or goals, including the following:

  • By 2025, the AI healthcare expenditure worldwide will be $36.1 billion.
  • By 2030, China has the goal to become the global leader in AI.
  • Since 2019, the goal of the US has been to maintain worldwide leadership in AI research.

But an explanation is necessary to have a better understanding of everything that comes with these technological advances.

What Does AI Mean?

In simple terms, AI is special hardware and software with cognitive abilities associated with human minds. In other words, it is a computer or machine capable of thinking and acting like people.

AI is capable of reasoning, learning, problem-solving, and interacting with its surroundings. If you think about it, AI is already among us, like in our cell phones with Siri and Cortana, or who doesn’t have Alexa? Alexa is based on natural language processing, meaning that it can process, manipulate, and generate human language.

Now, there are two subfields in artificial intelligence: deep learning and machine learning. Let’s learn a little bit more about both. 

Deep Learning

Deep learning uses artificial neural networks to imitate how the human brain learns a large amount of data to accomplish actions, such as face recognition. In the medical and pharmaceutical fields, deep learning can be used to create a specific medicine for a specific genome.

Machine Learning

Through machine learning, an AI learns based on its data and continues learning from new data to predict better and more accurate outcomes, for example, social media optimization, email, and spam automatic filtering.

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Hopefully, in the near future, AI will be used to look at images captured by CT scanners and MRI machines to help with a patient’s diagnosis, identifying anomalies faster and even finding problems that are difficult for the eye to see.  

Another significant development of AI is the brain-computer interface (BCI), which is a technology whereby people can control a device with their thoughts. 

The BCI uses machine learning to understand the connection between brain signals and the action that these signals command. So this technology could help people with disabilities or those who have had a stroke and suffered some type of paralysis. 

With BCI, a person could regain limb control or communicate through a device. Also, researchers are developing BCI-controlled robotic limbs with a sense of touch which is mind-blowing. The technology is in an experimental stage, but it has the potential to revolutionize healthcare.     

What Is AI in Nursing?

The healthcare industry relies on a lot of data in order to make the best decisions regarding patients’ treatments and medication. Therefore, AI is a great way to improve healthcare with more efficient decision-making processes and predict healthcare outcomes more accurately.    

Healthcare technology has been around for many years, and many electronic devices are already used to collect data in real-time, making it easier for nurses to keep track of patients and helping them to keep necessary notes more effectively.    

Programs and devices with AI can also help patients in their homes by sending them to check their blood pressure, exercise, or take their medication, keeping better control of their healthcare outcomes. 

AI is also used to forecast trends in public health and the possibilities of patient complications for early detection and prevention. Also, in education and training, students can have more realistic practices with AI mannequins which can simulate a patient with different health problems so students can figure out which course of action to take. 

The Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing is the first university in the world to use an AI human patient simulator called HAL model s-5301 to train nurses and put students in situations they may find in their professional lives.

However, the disadvantage of this technology is the cost: HAL costs $160,000—a significant investment for universities. Nevertheless, a Harvard study shows that using a simulator in the medical field reduces malpractice rates, so it’s an investment worth making.  

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Also, AI can help support nurses and clinicians in their clinical decisions since AI can retrieve data like electronic health records or info from different wearable sensors within seconds or minutes.

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How Is AI Implemented in Healthcare Decisions?

AI can learn and retrieve a lot of data from different sources, facilitating decision-making and predicting patients’ risks and outcomes. It also can be implemented to provide continued care for patients with chronic diseases through live data.

Through wearable devices, heart monitors, facial recognition, and many other devices equipped with different sensors, healthcare givers can access live information wherever the patient is to better assess their evolution and condition.

Since AI can predict patient risks and possible outcomes, AI can become a great asset to healthcare, helping doctors, nurses, and all the caregivers involved in the healthcare process to make more accurate decisions in less time.

Can AI Impact Nurses’ Decisions?    

Nurses work in direct contact with patients daily and do many different tasks during their shifts. Artificial intelligence can become a handy source of input and help with administrative duties assisting nurses so they can make decisions effectively and more accurately.  

The Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH) is one of the first hospitals to adopt the Rothman Index, which is a tool that measures patients’ conditions using electronic medical records with preexisting information and life data to show patients’ acuity and risks.

The YNHH has a special nurse team that uses the Rothman Index and is composed of highly trained nurses in critical care, trauma care, and advanced cardiopulmonary life support. This team receives immediate alerts on their cell phones when the Rothman Index shows that patients suffer any deterioration.  

The nurse team analyses the patient’s electronic medical records, assesses the patient as needed, and helps all the clinicians working on the case when required. 

In addition, researchers are working to create robots to help nurses in some of their tasks, like ambulation support, vital signs measurements, and medication administration, among others. It’s been found that nurses spend 8% to 16% of their time on nonnursing activities and tasks. This time can be recovered by using robots so that nurses can focus more on patients.

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An example of a robot that can assist in healthcare is Sofia, which was built to accompany adult people and can respond to human interaction. It shows what technology can do to help nurses make decisions and use their time where they are needed most.

Will AI Replace Nurses?

AI robots or devices will not replace nurses; on the contrary, technology will help nurses to perform better the tasks that matter most. AI will complement nurses’ jobs reducing their workload and facilitating more accurate data to help nurses make the best decisions.   

The goal of technology and AI is not to replace nurses but integrate the two worlds to build more efficiency and effectiveness. With the developments in AI, nurses will have a “right-hand man.” In the near future, AIs will carry out tasks like answering patients’ questions about their tests, monitoring their breathing patterns, identifying patients’ needs, and predicting the course of their treatment.

Nurses carry out an essential role in healthcare. For that reason, nurses need to be involved in the development of devices created to upgrade healthcare services, so it’s fundamental to integrate AI and nurses’ needs and know-how to have positive outcomes. 

According to the American Nurses Association, in the code of ethics in nursing, AI or advanced technologies do not replace nursing skills and judgment. Also, nurses, in conjunction with other healthcare professionals, have an essential role in the search for new and creative solutions.

AI usage must be monitored by nurses whose major objective is to offer healthcare services that respect human rights and reduce health disparities, which AI on its own can’t do. Also, physical touch and nurturing behaviors affect the patient’s perception of a caring relationship; by using AIs alone, healthcare would lose the warmth nurses give at the bedside.    

AI and new technologies are changing healthcare worldwide, and nurses, like all healthcare professionals, need to embrace these advances and work with AI to achieve better service and better patient outcomes. AI can help reduce possible mistakes, retrieve information quickly, monitor patients, and reduce workloads, allowing nurses to be more focused and concentrated on working at their best capacity and making the best decisions possible for better patient outcomes.     

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