Mini-Grant Allows Nursing Students to Assist Patients with PDAs

March 3, 2009
By: Worcester State University News

One of the best kept secrets in American health care today is the amount of health care families provide for ill family members.

“Patients are discharged from the hospital with so many unmet needs,” said Maryellen Brisbois, an instructor in the Worcester State Nursing Department. A community and public health nurse herself, she supervises nursing students in the community nursing rotation who visit families in central Massachusetts and a 400-square-mile area that stretches into Connecticut.

“These students need to be able to access a wealth of medical information quickly and efficiently,” she said. This is information they probably don’t have in their heads.

Enter the PDA.

PDAs are handheld reference devices that enable users to check for up-to-date information quickly at the point of patient care.

A 2008-09 mini-grant from the college enabled the nursing department to purchase 14 PDAs loaded with seven software programs. These include medical information databases, laboratory standards data, nursing procedures and a Spanish-English dictionary.

Last fall, nursing students used PDAs to check possible drug interactions, drug side effects, and other technical aspects related to patient care during skilled home visits and community clinical settings.

“Other nurses in the community health setting were drawn to these devices,” Brisbois said. “They’d ask our students to look things up for them.”

At least two of the 11 seniors who used PDAs last fall have purchased their own PDAs. They’ll be on the cutting edge of nursing informatics as they enter the job market.

An American Association of Colleges of Nursing 2002 report encouraged nursing programs to incorporate technology in their education of the next generation of nurses, Brisbois said. Technology can enhance patient safety. Elderly patients, for example, often take many medications. The possibility of drug interactions is immense.

Teaching opportunities exist in the home setting that can be enhanced with immediate access to current data, she added.

The goal of the mini-grant project was to make nursing students comfortable with using PDA technology. Using a survey instrument developed at Kent State University, Brisbois learned that getting used to using the PDA was problematic for some. Others reported that the cost of the device, about $500, kept them from using it. “They didn’t want to lose it,” she said.

In general, students liked the devices. “Everything was there when they needed it,” Brisbois said.

This spring semester, 13 juniors in the medical-surgical and pediatrics rotations in hospital settings are using the PDAs, to which software for those specialties was added. These students seem to have quickly adapted to the devices.

Brisbois, who is in her second year of full-time teaching at Worcester State, is also a full-time doctoral student in the nursing program at UMass-Worcester. Although she is pleased with the results they’ve gotten so far from the PDA experiment, she cautions that the PDA can’t solve every problem.

“We can’t prepare students for everything they’ll face in a community nursing setting,” she said. Reflecting on the situations that her students may face as they visit patients in their homes, she added,  “It can be overwhelming, but having current information at your fingertips can help smooth the transition.”

Written by Barbara Zang, Ph.D.

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