The journey of an ER nurse who decided to scale her impact through technology
Try to imagine a job as far from a regular 9-5 as you can. I’m sure some of you thought of soldiers or spies, but I bet at least one or two of you pictured a nurse. That was me. Hair up out of my face, scrubs on, working through another night shift with a dedicated team of health professionals and a smile on my face. I had always known that my path would lead me towards helping people, but with nursing I had found my true calling. So how did I end up as a Clinical Development Manager at a tech company? That story isn’t just my personal story, but rather the story of an entire sector, and its developing needs. It’s the story of realizing that while I can help on the ground, I can also scale that aid by participating in developing the tools of the future. But for now let’s get back to the events as they unfolded.
After a stint as an EMT, evaluating patients in-home and taking them to various hospitals, I was able to witness people in their natural environment. I was able to meet people at the moment where they would have to be taken in for care, sometimes never to return home. I saw how vulnerable of a moment that could be, especially for older adults, and how reluctant they were to leave this safe space.
Profoundly moved by my experience, I decided to go to nursing school. During my schooling, I got the change to participate in a project in a geriatric ER that was conducting research into methods of preventing delirium in older adults during their ER stays. From then on, it was a match for me and geriatric care, and I was always drawn to working with older adults. I found that while my connection with patients from other groups still had a huge effect on their mood and overall well being, they were often surrounded by loving family and friends. This was not always so for my geriatric patients, and unfortunately the ER was a far more regular part of their life than for other patients. I felt like a smile and a kind word, alongside the necessary medical care, made all of the difference.
Reactive vs. Proactive Problem Solving
I loved the grind of the ER, as well as the satisfaction that came after a particularly hard shift, I knew that I had left it all out there and had given my all. However, I began to notice a recurring trend, a trend that caused me to grow increasingly frustrated. As a geriatric ER nurse, I would see the same patients over and over. Whether because of a pattern of recurring falls, repeat medication errors, or dementia related complaints (agitation, not eating, dehydration, care resistance), the same faces would appear in the ER, week in, week out.
Often, their confusion and agitation would grow stronger each time, at times paired with continuously diminishing physical strength. I would treat each patient as best as I could, time and time again, knowing full well that many of these cases could have been treated at home more effectively, or even prevented. We would give the recommendations upon release, only to meet that exact patient weeks later, in for the same ail.
As a geriatric ER nurse, I also witnessed numerous examples of caregiver burnout and lack of training. Many times dementia patients would be brought to the ER due to agitation or care resistance at home for many reasons whether undetected delirium, simply a caregiver/patient mismatch, or other problems they couldn’t express. The caregiver who often did not have the proper tools to manage dementia clients would call EMS and bring them to the ER. In the ER many times we would have to administer sedatives or restraints. Typically after this, it would leave the patients more confused, at a higher risk of falls and possibly even result in being taken out of their homes.
As a health professional, I often thought how much more effective caring for older adults would be, if we could detect and prevent these instances from occurring and provide a better and holistic plan for older adults. That is how I found myself sitting in an office, interviewing for a job at a high-tech start-up.
I had first heard about Sensi from a news article. When reading about a start-up that was harnessing artificial intelligence to detect events in the homes of older adults and provide recommendations to prevent them from recurring, I was stunned. Had someone entered my brain and taken my idea? On second thought, I understood that this same thought, the realization that we need to augment our medical and non-medical professionals caring for geriatric patients with proactive and holistic tools could not be mine alone. It is a thought that must go through the head of many an ER nurse, caregiver and care agency owner.
Scaling Impact through Technology
That is how I found myself hair down, scrubs off, working with a dedicated team of developers, product managers, business team members and more, to develop Sensi, the world’s first virtual care agent. Before this journey, if you had asked me what the number one thing needed to aid in caring for older adults, I would have answered easily and confidently – more working hands. Our medical and non-medical care professionals are over-worked and spread thin caring for our aging population.
I do still believe that staff shortages have an effect on our ability to care for older adults, but simply adding more people is not the answer, and it is not a viable solution given the trends in caregiver and health professional shortage today. What we can do is create tools that will augment health professionals and aid in providing a holistic care solution to older adults. Instead of chasing our own tails trying to address problems that have already occurred, we can work together to create preventative tools that will be far more effective in improving the health and wellbeing of older adults.