These nurses are picking a fight they'll be hard-pressed to win

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

These days, technology is affecting virtually every aspect of long-term care.

From billings, to electronic health records, to patient sensors and more, tech is opening up new doors faster than ever. Maybe too fast, claims a nurse group concerned by both the pace and fallout of tech-driven change.

National Nurses United recently began a media campaign that claims to expose the increasingly ugly underbelly of “digitalized care.” While all things tech seem to be fair targets, their sights are honed on two tools gaining more visibility in long-term care: electronic health records and bedside computers. NNU claims both “too often fail,” which can lead to incorrect diagnoses and treatments.

The group's marketing materials note that “as local hospitals and [other providers] are gobbled up by giant corporations, the theme is cut costs (by which they mean your care) and raise their profits.” A related video underscores the organization's concern with using technology as a proxy for frontline caregivers.

Critics might claim this is little more than a Luddite-type reaction from a union trying to keep its members employed. And there may be more than a little truth in such skepticism. However, NNU is hardly alone in expressing unease about new directions in the art, science and business of healthcare.

Clearly, there is no shortage of evidence to support either side of the debate. Those concerned with technology running amok have repeatedly pointed to its ability to catalyze poor care and fraud on a large scale. Conversely, many others have lauded its promise for better diagnosis, care and payment efficiency.

At this point, it's hard to predict how successful this anti-technology push will be. But if I were a gambler, I'd be hard-pressed to bet on the nurses.

For years, we've been hearing that better technology is our last best hope against healthcare spending gone wild. And let's face it: The government, the insurance companies and a growing army of health systems are teching up as never before.

Emphasizing patients over profits may help National Nurses United deliver a counterpunch to this general trend. But in this case, it's like bringing stones to a tank fight.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

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