Why Memorize When You Can Check Your Phone?

The New York Times has an article about how nursing school students are likely to reach for their smart phones when asked about a drug interaction. They don’t need to memorize this stuff anymore — they can just go ahead and look it up at a moment’s notice.

Educators say that it’s not that the nursing school students don’t need to know as much as they used to, but that “the amount of essential data has exploded.”

“There are too many drugs now, too many interactions, too many tests, to memorize everything you would need to memorize,” says Ms. Eland, a specialist in uses of technology. “We can’t rely nearly as much as we used to on the staff knowing the right dose or the right timing.”

Five years ago, most American hospital wards still did not have electronic patient records, or Internet connections. Now, many provide that access with computers not just at a central nurse’s station but also at the patient’s bedside. The latest transition is to smartphones and tablet computers, which have become mandatory at some nursing schools.

“We have a certain set of apps that we want nursing students to have on their handheld devices — a book of lab tests, a database of drugs, even nursing textbooks,” says Helen R. Connors, executive director of the Kansas University Center for Health Informatics. Visiting alumni, she says, are shocked to see students not carrying physical textbooks to class.

But technology carries risks as well. So much data is available that students can get overwhelmed, and educators say that a growing part of their work is teaching how to retrieve information quickly and separate what is credible, relevant and up-to-date from what is not. (Hint: look for the seal of approval of Health on the Net.)

They also worry that students rely too much on digital tools at the expense of patient interaction and learning.“There’s a danger that having that technology at the point of care at the bedside creates a misperception that students don’t need to know their stuff,” says Jennifer Elison, chairwoman of the nursing department at Carroll College in Helena, Mont.

“I get worried when I hear about nursing programs that want to replace the person-to-person clinical experience with increased hours with simulation,” she says. “We hear sometimes that it feels to patients that the computers are more important than they are.”

The article also talks about the privacy issues that arise when a smart phone is always at the ready. Four students were expelled from nursing school when they posed with a human placenta (ew) and posted the photos on Facebook. Ms. Ellison ends the article by saying, “(T)his is a generation that immediately hits that send button.”

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