two nursing professionals

The Medical Internet of Things

Staying up-to-date with the latest health care technologies, and the trends in patient behavior they can drive, is both a leadership and a learning challenge for nurse administrators.

Patients are turning away from the hospital and toward the Internet with their health care queries: Google itself estimates that upwards of one in every 20 searches is health-focused. The online search trend is challenging enough on its own, but an even deeper layer of complexity is being added due to wearable devices, both over-the-counter and prescription. A subset of the Internet of Things (IoT), these devices are focused on medical applications, such as blood glucose monitors that alert diabetic patients and their doctors when their blood sugar gets too low and heart rate monitors that allow closer tracking of everything from stress levels to sleep habits. These and other such devices comprise the growing Internet of Medical Things, or IoMT.

Taken together, the Internet and the IoMT are disrupting the relationship patients have with clinicians. Nurse leaders are tasked with finding ways to guide their organizations through all this change in a way that protects patients and empowers staff in a way that maximizes engagement while mitigating the risks of self-diagnosis and other Internet-driven behaviors.

Making the Most out of Online Search and IoMT Trends

While patients now comb the Internet for answers and reassurance or reference their wearable devices in describing their condition, historic clinical workflows don’t always accommodate this sudden influx of third-party information. Strong nurse leadership in these situations requires a certain amount of creativity to help develop, communicate, and advance strategies for combatting misinformation and keeping patients safe, but engaged.

The explosion of data generated by IoMT devices could give caregivers across the spectrum a whole new level of insight and actionable data to inform clinical decisions and enrich health assessments. Rather than relying on patient memories or anonymous online resources uncovered by Google searches, the IoMT could allow patients to have personal health data unobtrusively recorded and shared directly with caregivers through wireless communication. Records could be populated with weeks, months, or years of information, showing trends, warning signs, and possibly even indicators of disease.

The Role of Nurse Leaders in Managing New Digital Sources of Information

Handling the challenges brought on by patients relying on “Dr. Google” or their IoMT devices before seeing medical professionals requires clear communication and leadership among medical staff. Nurse leaders are important for keeping their staff educated and up-to-date on the latest technology trends by helping structure training to include the consumer-facing technology patients want to bring into the clinical space. As attitude drives behavior, nurse administrators can also have a huge influence just by helping staff maintain a positive outlook on consumer technology and modeling attitudes that help shape organizational culture. Through this individual behavior-modeling, nurse leaders are critical in influencing collective behaviors. Among nursing staff, turning critics into optimists and skeptics into advocates is a continuous process, but with the right leadership, it can be done.

Organizational culture in a health care setting comes from a combination of standards and policies, as well as less tangible leadership qualities like communication, conflict mediation, and relationship building. In this sense, the strengths that make for effective nurse leaders resemble those that characterize great managers in the business world. Interpersonal influence can be both formal and informal, and nurse leaders will need a little of both to accommodate the expectations of patients in the Internet age, while motivating staff to be tolerant of how this technology changes clinical encounters. Nurse administrators equipped with their Master of Science in Nursing with a focus on leadership and administrative training can help restore confidence among their staff as well as patients.

At an organizational level, if nurse administrators can take a proactive approach to set policies confronting this new phenomenon, getting staff on the same page, they can be in a position of powerful influence over the nursing staff.

Nurse Administrators Leading a Technology-Rich Team

As the IoMT evolves, the leadership challenge for today’s nurse administrators is to help everyone on the team focus on the positives that come from the new technology, and ensure they are all using it to advance their common goals. Patients, as well as insurers, may be inclined to favor these devices more and more. Therefore, using IoMT devices to their full potential takes nurse leaders who outline a vision for a team that values everyone, from the patient to the provider, as well as the tools they each rely on to inform their decisions.

Nurse leadership can present the growth of the IoMT as a team-building opportunity, especially as patients voluntarily doing online research and utilizing medical wearables can be seen as making an effort to be more active members of their own care teams. With encouragement from leadership, this can make the challenges of new technology seem more like opportunities to connect, collaborate, and advance caregiving. For instance, patients who receive clear guidance from their caregivers will be able to navigate the Internet with more confidence and possibly work out a data-sharing arrangement to take advantage of new wearable devices.

Delivering optimum care, and generating the best possible outcomes, takes collaboration between the caregiving team and the patient. Patient compliance can be a major factor for helping reduce readmissions and achieving superior population health in communities and across the country. Leveraging IoMT devices can help nurses not only engage with their patients, but better monitor and ensure appropriate patient compliance with their care instructions, both in clinical environments and following their discharge. The role of nurse leaders is to help make these new technologies serve the entire care team, from facilitating communication and coordination between caregivers and patients to making all stakeholders more effective and empowered in their roles.

Leading by Learning Together

Keeping up with the IoMT (and the demands of patients who want to use it) is partly a matter of continuing education. For nurse administrators, it will be important to find, facilitate, and create opportunities for staff to become familiar with new technologies. Leadership can also encourage staff to study trends in consumer health devices and discuss creative responses that can be employed in the clinical space.

Educating staff can help, but staff must also feel comfortable getting more proactive about providing patient education. When nursing professionals have an understanding of the IoMT, they can advise patients on best practices they can follow at home and try to keep the patient at the center of the relationship even with the presence of new technology.

The administrative role is as much responsible for advancing knowledge as for coordinating the ongoing operations of health care teams. Nurse leaders will need to take charge of their own ongoing education and understanding of the IoMT and how patients are using the Internet so that they can exhibit confidence and guide staff through the waves of innovation that accompany new technologies. The pace and scale of change brought about by the Internet and wearable devices can be intimidating to experienced staff as well as novices, and it is the role of nurse leaders to help put everyone at ease with targeted training, open lines of communication, and a deliberate approach to making learning a shared challenge among all staff.

Learn More

Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program helps students hone their knowledge and skills to assume leadership positions in healthcare systems, nursing informatics or nursing education. The program aims to develop students who could take a role in shaping health policy, in educating other nurses and health care professionals, and in providing advanced care to their patients. Norwich’s online nursing program coursework has been developed based on guidelines by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Recommended Readings:
Cutting Edge Technology and Modern Hospital Rooms [infographic]
From Inpatient to Outpatient: The Evolution of Health Care Delivery [infographic]
The Role of Nurse Leaders in Health Assessments


Googling Symptoms Helps Patients and Doctors, TIME

Dealing with Dr. Google: Why communication is key, Medical Economics

Majority of Adults Look Online for Health Information, Pew Research Center

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)? Meaning & Definition, Business Insider

IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) or healthcare IoT, IoTAgenda

Devices and diseases: How the IoT is transforming medtech, Deloitte Insights

The Impact of Emerging Technology on Nursing Care: Warp Speed Ahead, The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

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