Industry Voices—Nurses' vital role in the success of AI

For over a decade, I worked as a nurse in a Primary Stroke Center caring for critically ill cardiac and stroke patients. In the latter half of my career, I focused specifically on working with hospital leadership to maintain clinical excellence as the Stroke Program Coordinator. This included monitoring stroke care from ED admission through patient discharge or transfer, identifying barriers that affected processes and care teams' ability to do their job, and, most importantly, ensuring overall patient safety during the integration of new tech and AI tools intended to help us do our jobs better—more than 1,500 of which have entered the market over the last five years. 

While questions about AI’s use in healthcare have increasingly permeated headlines amid concerns by nurses at Kaiser and other hospitals around the country, my experience on both the clinical and technological sides is that nurses are not fundamentally opposed to AI’s use in healthcare delivery. Rather, they have valid concerns about the speed at which these tools are being adopted without their voices being properly heard.

Nurses, more than anything, want a seat at the table when it comes to how AI is deployed at their hospitals. They are eager to be involved in these crucial yet fast-moving conversations that directly affect their roles and the quality of patient care they’re able to deliver, and that is where both hospitals and health tech companies have a major opportunity today.

For hospitals, nurses—who have long been drivers of change—bring enormous value when it comes to maximizing AI’s ability to alleviate the burdens they are facing, including workforce shortages, increasing patient volumes and overcoming razor-thin margins. The same is true for the health tech companies developing these technologies, who have reached a point where collaboration is vital for the successful implementation and growth of the tools they’ve developed. In order to reverse the current tide, here is how hospitals and health tech companies alike can turn nurses into allies in their efforts to improve patient outcomes.

First, nurses need to be recognized as key stakeholders. However, recognition does not equal words. It means taking action to actively include nurses in decision-making and, beyond that, valuing their contributions and what they bring to the table. Between the increasing demands being put on them and the burnout many are feeling, nurses not only need to feel supported and understood by their place of work as well as feel that they are being invested in as equally as these new technologies.

Second, nurses need to be trusted. Nurses need reassurance and commitment from hospitals that they are not implementing AI to replace them but rather to augment their critical human intelligence and clinical decision-making. The human experience and empathy that nurses provide cannot be replaced with AI technology. AI technology should just be a resource—another tool in their clinical toolbox—that they can use to supplement their work and enhance the level of care that they’re able to provide.

There is no doubt that we need more nurses in the driver's seat to right the ship on AI in healthcare. Nurses—and the entire clinical and operational team—need to be involved in the vetting process for new AI technology early on to ensure that investments in new technology will improve their workflow and, most importantly, patient outcomes.

Ultimately, the value and impact of any AI technology in healthcare depends significantly on its collaboration with clinical teams, which include nurses. As AI's role in healthcare evolves, it is essential for everyone involved to ensure that nurses are included in these conversations. The more that hospitals and healthcare technology companies can involve nurses in the decision-making process, the better we will all be.

Kari Cotton is the senior director of clinical success at health tech company RapidAI.