Carlow University to Host Conference on Significance of Technological Advances in Healthcare

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Danielle Spirnak and Sunshine Barron

By Kaitlin Baird

It’s no secret that technological advances have revolutionized the way healthcare is implemented, but they have also transformed the way it’s taught.

“When I was a student here 17 years ago, I lived in Grace Library,” said Danielle Spirnak, DNP, RN, director of the nursing simulation and skills lab in the School of Nursing at Carlow University. “But I know students now who have never set foot in the library. They don’t have to because most of the information they need is online or in software.”

Both Dr. Spirnak and her colleague in Carlow’s School of Nursing, Sunshine Barron, DNP, agree that technology has been advantageous for nursing students. One software program that is particularly helpful is “Nursing Central,” which is a program Carlow University nursing students are required to purchase in their sophomore year. With “Nursing Central,” a Personal Data Assistant (PDA) software program, nursing students can look up information on medications, lab and diagnostics tests, symptoms, diagnoses, and even find definitions for medical terms.

“It helps save time, helps increase patient safety, and it also helps the students,” Dr. Spirnak said.

Dr. Barron agreed, stating that technological advances are “helpful not only in enhancing patient outcomes, but they also help in decreasing costs.”

However, Dr. Spirnak pointed out that veteran nurses often have difficulties adjusting to modern technology. “For some of the seasoned, older nurses, it’s a challenge,” she said.

Dr. Barron added that more experienced nurses can be hesitant about using the newer technology. They have to be shown that it is safe and has benefits.

On April 29, 2011, Carlow University will sponsor a conference regarding the significance of technological changes. The Technological Advances in Healthcare conference will be held in Antonian Hall on the Carlow Campus.  Dr. Spirnak and Dr. Barron will discuss how technology has affected nursing specifically, along with multiple other guest speakers.

While veteran nurses can be hesitant about technological advances, Dr. Barron has noticed that students respond well to technology in education.

“Technological advances have made teaching more interesting,” she said. “It enhances student participation.”

Because many students have grown up learning basic technological programs, they do not seem to have a problem grasping concepts or learning new software. “They’re able to catch on quickly and it seems to hold their interests,” Dr. Barron said.

Many schools use simulation learning systems which put nursing students in real-life scenarios that a normal classroom cannot offer.

Carlow specifically uses electronic health records, a mock ICU and Nursing Simulation and Skills Lab that has multiple electronic mannequins which can simulate many different medical problems. Professors can control the mannequin’s breathing, blood pressure, heart sounds, and bowel sounds to create a real patient scenario.

Aside from the students and patients, the environment also benefits from technological advances. Many hospitals are beginning to eliminate use of paper—everything is online or in a database on a computer. This not only helps the environment, but also saves space and money for hospitals.

However, the changes in technology are not without challenges. Dr. Spirnak said that one issue is that of confidentiality. Saving documents on a computer or online opens up new ways for confidentiality to be breached. Another challenge is the potential unreliability associated with technology. When the Internet goes down, online documents cannot be accessed.

“You always have to have a backup plan,” Dr. Barron said.

Another downfall of technological advances is time. According to Dr. Barron, it can take hours to prepare a simple 15 minute simulation, and more time still to conduct the research used for feedback.

Thus far, however, the benefits seem to be outweighing the risks. “Technology has helped prolong life, increase the quality of life, and increase efficiency on the nursing units,” Dr. Barron said.

The Technological Advances in Healthcare conference will be held on April 29, 2011 in Antonian Hall on the Carlow Campus.  In addition to members of the Carlow healthcare community, other local and outlaying schools and hospitals will be invited to attend. The conference is offering continuing education credits that many nurses need to retain their licenses.


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