‘AI needs to be our partner,’ says NCSBN CEO David Benton.
The AI wave comes at a crucial time in nursing as it can effectively train nursing students, improve patient care management, and adapt nurses’ workloads, ultimately helping to reduce stress and fatigue.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for new technology.
HealthLeaders spoke with David Benton, RGN, PhD, FRCN, FAAN, CEO of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), about what AI can do for nursing.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Health Leader: What are the most useful AI innovations for nurses that you know of?
David Benton: You have to think about this in terms of different sectors. Artificial intelligence is already being used in the education sector, in the clinical sector, as well as in the managerial space, and the level of sophistication of the systems varies by sector.
In education, what we’re starting to see is artificial intelligence being used to help create communication support and simulation systems that allow individual students to have the same experience, but customize their responses. For example, patients with “multiple conditions” were developed who students then interacted with. Students are given a prompt and the AI then assesses their responses, thereby tailoring their learning experience to their particular needs.
First of all, it’s a safe space, so they can develop their skills in an environment where it won’t cost them anything, but they will get targeted feedback on their performance. Second, at a time when there was a shortage of faculty, it gave them a unique experience theirs learning needs, rather than learning in group experiences on a particular topic.
In the management space, artificial intelligence can be used for scheduling, by manipulating large amounts of data in a very short time.
We’re also starting to see it in the clinical arena, like in Illinois, where it’s available to schedule cancer services as part of a clinical program. Asia may be on a further path in developing this system. In China, they have a system that is used for venipuncture, so if you need to put an IV in, there are now systems that scan a person’s arm, identify the veins, and get it right 90+% of the time.
David Benton, CEO, National Council of State Nursing Councils / Photo courtesy of NCSBN
HL: What are the nursing pain points that AI will eventually be able to solve?
Benton: Every two years, we conduct a workforce survey, and one of the areas we identify here is increased burnout. One of the things we need to think about is if nurses are asked to do things that technology can do more efficiently or more effectively. Nurses would not have to do such work if machines could do it faster, more efficiently, and in a less stressful way.
Taking some of that stress for these routine tasks and focusing on the things only nurses can do—that’s what people who come into nursing should be doing. They come there to work with patients and keep them safe.
HL: Of course the technology is new, but how common is AI in nursing?
Benton: It depends on the institution you work for, as well as where you work. Some countries are much more advanced, and some health systems are far more advanced than others in their use of AI. Sometimes, people don’t even know they are using some of these systems because they are now embedded into the technology.
For example, some of the cardiac dysrhythmia monitoring systems that are prevalent in intensive care units, cardiac care units, emergency departments, and even in ambulances have built-in technology to support doctors in determining what is happening to the individual. Some of these systems are almost under the radar in terms of the support they now offer.
HL: How receptive are nurse leaders to AI?
Benton: In the discussions I had with nurse leaders, there was everything from enthusiastic to sluggish. It depends on their own personal experience with this system and their comfort level.
If they understand the technology, then they are often more receptive. There are concerns, obviously, about artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence learns from data sets and if there are errors in the data set, then they learn from those errors or biases. That’s why nursing has to be very prominent in helping develop these systems and implement these systems and detect where there are faults in the system.
In the early work on ChatGPT, when you would ask a question, it would confuse with contrived answers and give wrong responses, and unless you know the topic very well, you can be reassured by the responses because they are very assertive. . The latest generation, ChatGPT-4, has started to address some of these issues and ChatGPT-5 is about to get even better.
This is a space that is evolving very rapidly, and one of the challenges that nurse leaders have, in particular, is keeping up with all of these developments and taking the time to familiarize yourself with what some of these technologies can do, and indeed what they can do. don’t do it either.
HL: Some in healthcare are approaching AI as “additional intelligence”, not “artificial intelligence”, to support the idea of technology assisting, not replacing, nurses and other healthcare staff. How important is that difference?
Benton: At this stage, this is an important distinction because “augmented” allows individuals to maintain accountability for their actions, as the final decision rests with the physician, whether they are nurses or physicians. Artificial intelligence concludes that it does everything on its own, and therefore as a tool for discussing AI with the public, with politicians, etc., a useful distinction today.
But when machines can consistently outperform humans, then the question is, “As a human, are you going to overrule a machine when you know it will get it right 99.99% of the time, and humans get it right only 90% of the time?” I know that I, as a patient, want to deal with something that will work out 99.99% correctly.
This is a real dilemma that society, and not just doctors, need to get used to, because it gives people the information they need to decide. And I have an obligation as a practitioner to ensure that you make the right decision.
HL: What would you like to see AI do for nursing?
Benton: In clinical spaces, where artificial intelligence can do a job as well or better than nurses, we need to partner with our technology, just like any other tool. If you think about the years gone by when we used mercury thermometers to take people’s temperatures, we didn’t think about it; it allows us to get an accurate value in terms of whether someone might be infected.
Right now, we have different technologies that do that in real time, and we don’t think about that. AI needs to be our partner in providing safe, effective and efficient healthcare in the future.
Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, a brand of HCPro.
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