Providing compassionate nursing care in an age of artificial intelligence

According to a recent Ipsos poll, more Canadians are envisioning a health-care system with health technologies powered by artificial intelligence such as predictive analytics and robotics. To shed light on virtual care delivery models in Canada, RNAO along with AMS Healthcare prepared a report and hosted a virtual pan-Canadian symposium on Oct. 21 to bring together nurses and other stakeholders to critically reflect and discuss this important topic. A digital flyer is here. The press release is next.

COVID-19 has accelerated access to virtual health care, and people from all walks of life are increasingly expecting their care to include different types of technologies powered by artificial intelligence (AI), such as predictive analytics and robotic devices. As this demand grows, a critical question emerges: How will nurses safeguard person-and family-centred compassionate care in this age of AI?

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) and AMS Healthcare are answering that question with the release of a groundbreaking report that highlights the role of nurses in clinical environments enhanced by AI. The report, Nursing and Compassionate Care in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, is an urgent call for the nursing profession to engage in shaping this emerging future. It outlines trends in AI Health Technologies (AIHT), and how these trends can potentially transform the roles and functions of nurses in all domains of practice and all sectors. The report is being launched today, at a virtual symposium, alongside a call to action.

“Our report is a call for nurses to ensure the future brings together patients, nurses and AIHT in ethical and effective ways. Right now, some see the future of nursing and AIHT interface as threatening, while others are excited and want to play a role in shaping and preparing for it,” says RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun. “There is evidence that AIHTs can enhance care, particularly mental health care for the elderly. It has also been found to advance best practices by enhancing nurses’ ability to make informed decisions supported by high quality, real-time data and predictive analytics. And if nurses are involved, there is real potential to increase access to health services and advance health equity – rather than deepen inequities.”

There are several applications of AI predictive analytics already being used in nursing in Canada. For example, a few hospitals are using these technologies to reduce falls and fall-related injuries by alerting nurses, via mobile devices, of patients’ fall-risk scores, enabling them to intervene proactively. The implementation of relevant digital technologies can enhance the clinical and relational work of nurses, including person- and family-centred compassionate care.

“Offering compassionate, person- and family-centred nursing care while also using AIHTs requires strong, proactive nursing leaders at the ready, from the boardrooms of health care to the frontlines of clinical practice. Nurses must ensure that as new technologies expand and grow, compassionate care remains at the core of everyday nursing practice,” says AMS CEO Gail Paech.

Eight of the report’s 15 recommendations call for immediate action to:

  1. Create forums for open dialogue between nurses and patients to raise awareness of the patient-nursing-AIHT interface; gain patients’ and nurses’ perspectives; and foster understanding of the roles and responsibilities of nursing in shaping effective, meaningful and ethical utilization of relevant AIHTs and timely outcome evaluation.
  2. Explore the impact of AI on patients, families, caregivers and nurses and their perception of the delivery of person- and family-centred compassionate care augmented by AIHTs.
  3. Identify evidence-based best practices to guide ethical implementation of appropriate AIHTs across the care continuum to enhance person-centred, compassionate nursing care.
  4. Identify new care delivery models, responsibilities and competencies for nurses in all roles and sectors to support the interface between nursing science, person- and family-centred compassionate care and AI.
  5. Conduct a thorough review and reform of nursing curricula to ensure congruency of the nursing role with present needs and future demands of emerging AIHTs.
  6. Develop a strategic plan to build capacity for basic informatics skills and data/digital literacy in the existing and future nursing workforce.
  7. Implement new and revised professional codes of ethics and standards of practice that articulate nurses’ responsibilities and accountabilities in relation to the use of AIHTs.
  8. Prioritize rigorous, nurse-led interprofessional research to inform policies and procedures to support the co-design, development, implementation and evaluation of AIHTs in nursing.

Very little research has been done on how AIHTs might influence the nurse-patient relationship, specifically as it relates to compassionate nursing care. The release of this RNAO/AMS report is the first step in filling this knowledge gap. The next step is today’s virtual symposium, which brings together nurse clinicians, administrators, educators, researchers and policy makers to critically examine the report’s findings and recommendations and build an action plan.

“Nurses are encouraged to envision how technology can contribute rather than detract from humanistic caregiving by understanding AI and the possibilities that the convergence of nursing, technology and compassionate care offer,” says Tracie Risling, an associate professor at University of Saskatchewan and co-chair of the steering committee behind the report and symposium. “Nurses have always been at the leading edge of change, and with the growth of AI, it is vital that we proactively reconceptualize nursing in ways that continue to ensure compassionate care for patients.”

To read the full report, go here.