Career advice

Why every nurse should embrace the potential of digital technology

Information management is fundamental to nursing, which is why computers are a powerful ally

Information management is fundamental to nursing, which is why computers are a powerful ally

Nursing requires information to be coordinated which is what computers are for Picture: iStock

If there has been one positive from the COVID-19 crisis, it has been the rapid implementation of digital technology to support nurses in doing their jobs, believes University of Huddersfield professor of nursing and health informatics Nick Hardiker.

Whats more, the pandemic has underlined the need for nurses to make full use of information technologies, but to play their part in designing and developing them too.

Health informatics is my subject, but Im a nurse, first and foremost

In August, Professor Hardiker was elected fellow of the American Academy of

...

Information management is fundamental to nursing, which is why computers are a powerful ally

Nursing requires information to be coordinated – which is what computers are for Picture: iStock

If there has been one positive from the COVID-19 crisis, it has been the rapid implementation of digital technology to support nurses in doing their jobs, believes University of Huddersfield professor of nursing and health informatics Nick Hardiker.

What’s more, the pandemic has underlined the need for nurses to make full use of information technologies, but to play their part in designing and developing them too.

‘Health informatics is my subject, but I’m a nurse, first and foremost’

In August, Professor Hardiker was elected fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, honoured for his work to improve nursing practice and care through information management.

‘I’m a fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, but this is the first big honour I’ve received from the nursing side,’ he says.

‘It’s easy for people to lose sight of me as a nurse because they see health informatics as a technical, specialised world. But I see myself as a nurse first and foremost, so it’s nice for that side of my work to be recognised.’

Nick Hardiker

When computers were new to the nurse’s station

Professor Hardiker trained as a nurse in the 1980s at Blackpool Victoria Hospital. After a short period of agency nursing, he worked for six months in Italy, as an anaesthetics and theatre nurse in Turin.

Returning to the UK in 1988, he relocated to Manchester, working as a staff nurse on a care of older people’s ward at Barnes Hospital in Cheadle.

Computers were just starting to be introduced in the NHS, and he found the possibilities fascinating.

‘I started to notice these boxes appearing in the nurses’ station,’ he says. ‘Although they were fairly rudimentary patient administration systems on green screens, I saw the opportunity and potential to enhance patient care and improve the working lives of nurses.’

Bringing the worlds of computing and nursing practice together

Professor Hardiker’s interest in technology took him to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), now part of the University of Manchester, where he studied first for a bachelor’s degree in computer science, eventually achieving a PhD.

‘It’s frustrating when people are dreaming of a new world that’s just around the corner. The technology is here now that could completely transform health, but there are obstacles’

Nick Hardiker, nurse and professor of nursing and health informatics

He quickly found his role as a nurse had a contribution to make in this relatively new field. ‘I believed at the time that I’d be doing something different to nursing, but I soon realised they could be amalgamated,’ says Professor Hardiker.

Nurses should be active in influencing developments in healthcare technology Picture: iStock

‘For my final-year undergraduate project, I did a nurse duty rostering system, in conjunction with one of the units at Manchester Royal Infirmary. I hadn’t necessarily been looking to build on to my nursing career – I was studying computing in parallel with bank nursing – but one of my supervisors encouraged me to think about how I might bring the two worlds together.’

Understanding how technology can affect the work of nurses

He believes his nursing background is an advantage. ‘It’s something about understanding the world of nursing and having a way of communicating with people in that world,’ he says. ‘It gives a deep understanding of the environment nurses practise in and how technology might play a part in that.

‘A big part of nursing is knowledge management and coordination… that’s what computers are good at’

Nick Hardiker

‘It also means there’s a degree of trust from the people I work with – they know I’m one of them and that I understand the nursing world, and I think that enhances working relationships.’

Progress in exploiting the potential of technology in healthcare is slow – but the pandemic is forcing change

Although professor Hardiker’s initial feelings were that computing would help relieve some of the administrative burden for nurses, he has since seen its contribution to practice expand, albeit more slowly than he would like.

‘The lack of progress has been disappointing,’ he says. ‘It’s not to do with the technology not being there, some of it is purely political, but it’s frustrating when people are dreaming of a new world that’s just around the corner. The technology is here now that could completely transform health, but there are barriers and obstacles.’

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped force the pace of change, he says, and he hopes this will bring lasting benefit. ‘Things feel different now. There has been a recognition among nurse leaders that technology is important and that a big part of nursing is information brokerage, knowledge management and coordination,’ he says.

‘There’s a recognition that it would be foolish not to embrace the tools that have been developed for these very things – it’s exactly what computers are good at.’

How nurses can get the most from technology

Embrace the opportunities technology presents in your practice Picture: iStock

Professor Nick Hardiker’s tips

  • Come to technology with an open mind and be prepared to do things differently
  • Think about nursing practice in an electronic context – don’t assume that just because something has always been done that way on paper, it should be replicated on a computer
  • Continue to be involved in deployment or implementation of technology, but also look for opportunities to co-design or influence its development
  • Seek to understand nursing itself and constantly question how we do things
  • Information technology is a means to an end. It is important to focus on the goal of providing usable and useful information about nursing to enhance care quality and patient safety

Nurses must be central to information transformation in healthcare

Professor Hardiker’s research focuses on how to reimagine and optimise information practices in an electronic context. This means not merely replicating in technology what nurses do on paper, but looking at how to co-design systems that meet the information needs of nursing.

‘If there’s anything like a silver lining for COVID, it is the spotlight being put on nursing and the recognition that good nursing is absolutely key to good healthcare,’ he says. ‘The recognition that information tools can be supportive and are absolutely essential.’

Nurses should be a key part of the healthcare information transformation. ‘It’s not just about getting involved – most developers believe they are including the different professional groups, and when you see a deployment or implementation it’s certainly the case that nurses are involved. It is often nurses who are driving those implementations,’ says Professor Hardiker.

‘Redefining nursing in an electronic context’

‘One of the issues is nurses having a good enough understanding of nursing itself – knowing what it is to be able to exploit or leverage the technologies. My current work is around thinking about and redefining nursing – reframing nursing for an electronic context,’ he adds.

‘As a profession, we should be thinking about the way we practise. Traditional recording practices, for example, are no longer appropriate for an electronic context, and we’re designing for an electronic context now.

‘We should be thinking about information processes and workflows, and how they fit into the electronic context. Coming with an open mind and realising we can make massive advances is the way forward.’


Want to read more?

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursingmanagement.com
  • Bi-monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs