An article on how changes in the healthcare industry affect nursing and clinical practice

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the healthcare industry. With changes in care delivery, technological advances and increased patient expectations, the role of nurses as healthcare professionals is growing and evolving. This trend requires nurses to have the latest information at their disposal so they can effectively assess and treat their patients.

Of course, changes in healthcare are nothing new. “Change is the only thing that is constant,” said Marian Altman, clinical practice specialist at the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses in NurseZone. “‘Business as usual’ in healthcare means change.” While compassion, critical thinking and excellent clinical skills are always the most important skill areas for nurses, significant changes are coming in terms of where nurses work, how they deliver care and more. Since nurses often find themselves on the front lines of new trends in the healthcare system, they may need more education in order to be able to lead change in a variety of clinical areas. What are some of the most relevant trends in the modern healthcare system, and how are they affecting nurses?

Quality Initiatives and Patient Outcomes

Research has shown that nurses, as the most direct caregivers for many patients, play a critical role in improving patient outcomes and delivering quality care. “With new pay-for-performance initiatives, they are also being recognized as key contributors to a health care organization’s bottom line,” NurseZone reports. Now that safety records and satisfaction rates are readily available through the Internet, consumers have the ability to find detailed information on hospitals from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This access to information is changing the role of nurses in our healthcare delivery system. Other healthcare professionals are increasingly relying on nurses to “screen for potential risks and make sure that health care facilities avoid mistakes,” NurseZone explains. This is particularly important now that Medicare no longer pays for preventable errors.

Hospitals and health systems across the country are implementing a “triple aim” of improved quality, at lower costs, with better patient experiences. Nurses are required to apply complex knowledge to their care of patients and be prepared with new competencies in areas like leadership, evidence-based practice and collaboration.

As the U.S. healthcare system undergoes massive changes, nurses are a source of partnership and expertise. Elements like value-based purchasing, meaningful use and the Affordable Care Act are causing hospitals to focus heavily on improving and sustaining patient outcomes to stay afloat. There is a real push for quality, and hospitals are reporting improved patient outcomes when “change is led by nurses on the frontline vs. a top-down approach,” one expert told NurseZone.


Advancements in healthcare technology move at a rapid pace, so nurses have to stay sharp to keep up. Innovations like remote monitoring devices and high-tech patient simulators are becoming common in hospitals, as are electronic health record systems. Since each facility has different types and levels of technology, it’s important for nurses to be adaptable when it comes to learning new systems and equipment. In addition, electronic communication through text apps and hospital-wide paging communication tools enable nurses to respond more efficiently to patient needs. Apps that alert nurses when they are running late to provide treatment allow for concurrent quality management as well.

These innovative methods can improve life for nurses, enabling team collaboration and providing immediate access to critical patient information. Nurses are able to provide a rapid response to changing physiological parameters using evidence-based protocols to improve patient outcomes. More nurses than ever are participating in decisions about facility technology purchases, due to an increased recognition of the vital role direct access plays in improved care quality.

An overall increase in access to technology is one of the most important trends nurses can already see in their practice. There is increased use of portable and mobile technology, as well as an emphasis on telemedicine in rural or underserved areas. With the rise of electronic health records, hospitals and physicians’ offices are keeping track of patient information digitally. While this can make patient data easier to share and improve outcomes, it can also put private information at risk. Nurses have a responsibility to stay vigilant, in order to ensure the safety and security of patient data.

Care Delivery

Where nurses practice is changing as well. Facilities like ambulatory surgery centers and retail clinics are serving patients outside of the hospital setting, so nurses have job opportunities in more places than in the past. With healthcare moving out into the community, nurses have the opportunity to use their skills in new ways. Data from the RN Work Project indicates that more newly licensed nurses are accepting first jobs in ambulatory care, home health and nursing homes. In 2010-2011, just over 77 percent of new nurses got their first jobs in hospitals, down from almost 89 percent in 2004-2005. This trend may be due in part to economic changes or movement toward a more holistic care approach. Many believe that the future of nursing is heading back to where it started, with nurses frequently visiting patients in their homes and interacting with the community as a whole. We are already seeing a shift toward community clinics and home-based services.

Preventive care is another trend. Both the medical community and insurance providers are interested in encouraging patients to live healthier lifestyles that prevent health issues from arising. This means that nurses will see an increase in demand for “well care” and coordination with other healthcare professionals like nutritionists, physical therapists and psychologists. Collaboration has become the preferred style of care delivery, with a strong focus on interdisciplinary care. This is a good change for nurses. It allows them to own the decision-making process.

Along with the adoption of new technologies, nurses will increasingly collaborate with colleagues and non-nursing professionals on a regular basis. This can mean a large care delivery team that includes caseworkers, social workers, pharmacists and more.

Patient Changes

Patient interactions are evolving as well, and much of this is due to demographic shifts, increased access to healthcare services and better consumer education. For example, 2 to 3 million baby boomers are expected to age into Medicare every year over the next three decades. By 2020, more than 20 percent of the American population will be over the age of 65. In fact, adults over the age of 85 are the fastest growing age group overall. As people age, they have a greater need for healthcare services. This, in turn, increases the demand for nurses who are trained in gerontology and aging patient care.

Access to healthcare has also increased. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of previously uninsured Americans now have health insurance or qualify for Medicaid. As consumers gain more access to healthcare, they will look for nurses to guide them in navigating the healthcare system.

The Push for Continued Education

With all of these new trends, it’s no surprise that many nurses are choosing to continue their education by earning an RN-to-BSN. As the American Association of Colleges of Nursing puts it, “Quality patient care hinges on having a well-educated nursing workforce. Research has shown that lower mortality rates, fewer medication errors, and positive outcomes are all linked to nurses prepared at the baccalaureate and graduate level.” In fact, the Health Resources and Services Administration reported in 2013 that 55 percent of the RN workforce held a bachelor’s degree, and that number is climbing. This is in part due to the famous Future of Nursing report released by the Institute of Medicine in 2010, which called for increasing the number of baccalaureate-educated nurses to 80 percent. “To respond to the demands of an evolving health care system and meet the changing needs of patients, nurses must achieve higher levels of education,” the report said.

As the healthcare system continues to change, nurses may find they need more knowledge to lead effectively. The advent of online nursing degree programs is providing nurses with more access to education than ever before. Online programs like the RN-to-BSN degree available at Husson University enable nurses to continue to practice while earning higher levels of education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the ongoing nursing shortage will require 525,000 replacement nurses in the workforce. This brings the total number of job openings for nurses due to growth and replacements to 1.05 million by 2022 and is causing high-quality institutions with a long history of nursing education to add online offerings.

Husson University has been educating nursing professionals for more than a century, and its RN-to-BSN faculty members are experts with years of experience in active clinical practice. The program focuses on giving students the practical skills modern nurses need to deliver patient-centered care through systems-based practice. You can learn more about this flexible, affordable degree and how it can help you advance your career here.