By Suzi Birz, principal, HiQ Analytics
School nurses serve as the sole health care professionals in what often resembles a mini emergency room—every day. With an increasing number of children with special needs and the never-ending supply of playground accidents, school nurses are being called on to take care of everything from scraped knees to catheters. Thankfully, there’s an increasing amount of technology available to assist these nurses in the school health care setting.
Technology’s Driving Forces
“School nurses need fast access to information for individual health care plans—faster than books can provide,” explained Susan Smith, RN, BSN, MA, school nurse at the Shawnee Mission School District, in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. In an effort to meet these needs, Smith augments the paper-based information that she uses with the Internet.
“School nurses are required to deliver a higher intensity of care to children that are well, but have clinical needs,” added Sharon Redes, MSN, APRN, president of Professional Software for Nurses, Inc.
“School nurses are now seeing children as young as 3 with high health care needs,” she said. “Children that simply did not survive a few years ago are attending school.”
School nurses’ clinical activities are coupled with an increased regulatory environment requiring documentation and “patient” or “child” privacy. Peter Redes, vice president of Professional Software for Nurses, Inc, added that, at the same time, school nurses are arriving with a familiarity with computers and an understanding of the benefits technology can provide to meet these challenges.
In addition to meeting clinical needs, documentation serves another important purpose. School nurses are frequently called on to justify their employment. The data in student health programs allows school nurses to present actual data about the volume, variety and severity of care. As Smith explained, these data can be viewed with attendance records to show that the school nurses are achieving the goal of “keeping kids in school.”
Elizabeth Ann Murphy, MA, RN, NCSN, a member of the Virginia Association of School Nurses, sees many trends driving the use of technology in school nursing. In addition to computer-based student health records, Murphy cited professional concerns including certification, continuing education, and advocacy, in addition to the increased use of tools such as computer-based medical records, internet health care resources and handheld computers.
Student Health Programs
Software is available to school nurses to store vital student information in areas such as visits, medications, immunizations and screenings. SNAP Health Center Records is one such program. The SNAP package meets HIPAA and FERPA confidentiality requirements as well as provides tools for all aspects of school nurse health care documentation.
SNAP can be used in a single school or in a school district. When expanded to the school district, SNAP’s functionality includes district-wide reports, shared templates, simplified year-end processing, and transferring of students between schools.
The package includes tools for all aspects of school nurse health care documentation, allowing school nurses to spend less time documenting visits and more time with the students.
There are many Web sites that provide valuable information for school nurses on a daily basis. Murphy, who uses the SNAP program, also references sites that allow school nurses online preparation for certification; sites with continuing education; sites with information on crisis management and ways to get involved in cyber-advocacy; and sites on data collection and research.
Additionally, Murphy pointed out that there are government sites with details on the various regulations that apply to school nursing, as well as online resources that give school nurses access to medical information including drug databases, evidence-based nursing and nursing languages.
“Handheld devices allow nurses to have constant access to student records and internet resources,” Murphy explained. “Coupled with a cell phone and a walkie-talkie, a school nurse has communication and information resources at her fingertips whether in the student health center, administering care on the playground, or responding to a crisis.”
Murphy added that new handheld technology has capabilities that allow data to be stored, exchanged with others, synchronized with the computer-based student health record, and backed up in the student health center.
“Handheld computers contain organizing, computing, telephone/faxing, and networking capabilities that may be utilized in personal and professional situations, and professional nursing applications may be added to them,” Murphy said.
She recommended school nurses consider using a computer-based student health record that can send data to and receive data from a handheld computer.
“Technology can be a real aid in helping a nurse do his or her job,” said Peter Redes. If a school district is looking into technology for the school nurse, Redes added: “Do not let the information technology person alone decide what program to use; get involved in the needs identification and evaluation.”
Smith recommended that school nurses become a member of the national list-serve (School Nurse Discussion List, SCHLRN-L) to learn about technology and remain current on political issues.
Finally, Murphy advised that technology become a part of all school nurses’ future plans.
“School nurses must include technology in their 2005-2006 school year objectives in order to function as professional nurses in the school setting,” Murphy said.
SNAP and Professional Software for Nurses, Inc.
Susan Smith’s School Nurse Resources
Handheld Computers for School Nurses
School Nurse List-Serves:
School Nurse Discussion List
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