While patient care is not as changeable as fashion, trends certainly happen. The demands of an aging population, the effects of legislative reform, and the possibilities presented by new technology all have an impact on what nurses do each day. Here are five major trends already influencing nursing practice today.
The “Internet of Things” Comes to Medicine and Nursing
Technology gurus have long been announcing the rise of the “Internet of things”, in which ordinary devices become wired and monitored through the use of sensors and tracking software. In a household sense, think of a refrigerator that is able to tell when you are low on milk and sends you an alert, or updates a shopping list for you.
One study predicts that IT spending in health care will increase to $117 billion between 2015 and 2020. The Internet of Things, adapted for patient care, is likely to make up a big part of that.ii
Enhanced Infection Control
Enabled by the Internet of Things or not, infection control is certain to be even more of a concern for nurses and nurse practitioners this year. In hospitals and clinics, nurses will need to be alert for signs of diseases like the zika virus, ebola, and other epidemics that are sure to spread. From a nurse practitioner standpoint, patient education will be especially important.
Hospital occupancy rates have fallen from 77% in 1980 to 60% in 2013.iii This comes as no surprise to most experienced nurses, who are likely aware of the long shift towards favoring outpatient and ambulatory care within communities. However, a perfect storm of budget cuts, health care reform pressures, and a revitalized interest in coordinated care is likely to accelerate the reduction in hospital bed capacity over the next several years.
Nurse practitioners and case managers should be prepared to identify alternatives to the hospital for all but their most complex cases in years to come. Nurse practitioners should also be prepared to make more home visits.
Higher Demand for Nurse Practitioners
Earlier this month, the Association of American Medical Colleges issued a report on the continuing— and worsening—shortage of physicians, particularly primary care physicians. They anticipate that the United States could face a shortfall of 12,500 to 31,100 primary care physicians by 2020.iv
This drop in the supply of physicians is correlated with rising demand for nurse practitioners. According to medical staffing firm Merritt Hawkins, nurse practitioners were the fifth most requested specialty made by their clients in 2015, outranking even general surgeons. In 2011, NPs didn’t even make the firm’s top twenty.v
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently offer NPs a full practice environment—one where they can treat patients without supervision from a physician, as recommended by both the Institute of Medicine and National Council of State Boards of Nursing.vi
Due to pressure caused by the lack of primary care doctors and rising demand for healthcare from newly-insured individuals, other states are beginning to look at laws that will offer NPs more autonomy. California, for example, is set to resume debate on Senate Bill 323, which would see the Golden State join the list of full-practice states for nurse practitioners.vii