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Take control of digital technology

Doing the best for your patients increasingly means working as an ‘e-nurse’ - which is why the RCN has joined forces with Health Education England to boost nurses’ digital literacy.
Nurse using digital aid

Doing the best for your patients increasingly means working as an e-nurse - which is why the RCN has joined forces with Health Education England to boost nurses digital literacy

Healthcare has been slower than many other sectors to embrace new technologies, with some nursing staff feeling anxious, fearful and sceptical about the digital revolution.

But a new publication called Improving digital literacy, produced by Health Education England (HEE) and the RCN, aims to boost nurses knowledge, confidence and enthusiasm. Alongside a definition of digital literacy, it looks at why it is essential, how staff can improve their skills, challenges and some potential solutions.

Everyone needs to be proficient

Our main hope is that people take away why its so important, says Susan Kennedy, educationalist and project manager at HEE.

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Doing the best for your patients increasingly means working as an ‘e-nurse’ - which is why the RCN has joined forces with Health Education England to boost nurses’ digital literacy


New report aims to help you harness the potential of technology. 

Healthcare has been slower than many other sectors to embrace new technologies, with some nursing staff feeling anxious, fearful and sceptical about the digital revolution.

But a new publication called Improving digital literacy, produced by Health Education England (HEE) and the RCN, aims to boost nurses’ knowledge, confidence and enthusiasm. Alongside a definition of digital literacy, it looks at why it is essential, how staff can improve their skills, challenges and some potential solutions.

Everyone needs to be proficient

‘Our main hope is that people take away why it’s so important,’ says Susan Kennedy, educationalist and project manager at HEE. ‘In the past, it’s been easier to think that technology was done by other people who were particularly technically proficient. But now we all need to have sufficient digital capabilities to do our jobs well, doing the best for our patients.

‘The days when you could learn something and it might stay more or less the same for five, ten, 15 years are gone,’ she adds. ‘We need staff who have the confidence and competence to learn things afresh. If we have staff who are ready to adapt to change and are enthusiastic about technology and what it can do for patients, then we can implement systems quickly and provide the benefits for patients.’  

More convenient for patients

Increasingly, technology is being used to help people monitor their own long-term conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension. ‘If we have a digitally ready workforce, we’re better able to support people to manage their health easily, safely and often at home, without having to come into health centres as often as they do now,’ says Ms Kennedy.

According to HEE research, the most significant factor in achieving digital literacy is the creation of digital champions in the workforce – whether formal or informal. ‘They can make a real difference – and they can be you,’ says Ms Kennedy.

‘More often than not, a champion is a person who has assumed the role, taking it on spontaneously to help others when they need it. A big part of improving your digital literacy is becoming a champion yourself. There is a huge amount of enthusiasm out there, with many people doing lots of exciting things that are easily replicated.’ 

An issue of confidence

Tackling staff fears about the pace of change is one of the most important challenges. ‘Sometimes people don’t have enough confidence in their own abilities to get on board with technologies,’ says Ms Kennedy. ‘We’re cautious too and we don’t want necessarily to adopt something for the sake of it being new and without it being properly implemented.’
 
Yet in reality, almost all of us are using these kinds of skills every day, but they’ve become so second-nature we don’t realise it, she says. ‘We’ve all got smart phones and tablets and are booking holidays and doing our shopping online. I think a lot of people would be surprised at the skills they already have.

‘We need to take the fear element out and encourage people to think “actually I’m doing a lot of this already”. It’s about saying this isn’t beyond you and so highly technical that only those with specialist skills can do it. You have the capabilities already – now it’s about how you explore them at work.’

Accessible learning

Getting time off to attend training is often viewed as another obstacle. ‘Look for ways to add a bit of learning here and there, bolting on to what you already know,’ advises Ms Kennedy. ‘We need bite-size learning that is easily accessible.’ 

For Matt Butler, who chairs the RCN e-health forum, technology should be as unobtrusive and easy to use as possible. ‘You shouldn’t have to learn everything about how a system works,’ he says. ‘You should just be able to see that you’re getting lots of blood pressure readings from your patient, for example. As a nurse, you can study that information and it gives you new clinical insight.

‘If you look at the best technology, there may be a few tips and tricks, but you can pick it up and use it intuitively. That’s how it should be in healthcare, rather than nurses feeling they’re not competent or digitally capable.’

Emphasis on 'e-nurses'

In 2016, the RCN’s annual congress voted in favour of a resolution promoting the concept that by 2020 every nurse should be an ‘e-nurse’. In practice, this means nursing staff in all settings should be able to harness the digital tools they need to work effectively, developing the necessary skills.

The forum has developed a plan of activities to promote the campaign’s key messages, including webinairs and videos highlighting what is happening in digital healthcare, and alerting nurses to the ways they can become more involved in using their expertise to shape the agenda.

Mr Butler believes it is crucial that nursing expertise is incorporated at the outset of any digital transformation, with nursing and technology staff working hand in hand. ‘Digital enables nurses to provide services for patients that we previously couldn’t do, new ways of doing things and new scope for clinical work,’ he says. ‘But we need to be involved and consulted from the beginning, so that innovations benefit from our knowledge. What we’re trying to achieve is that nurses take control. Rather than becoming victims of technology, we need to be at its forefront.’

Clinical involvement

For the benefits to be realised, in terms of costs and improving care, there needs to be much greater clinical involvement in projects. When clinicians are excluded from a digital project it inevitably fails, says Mr Butler. ‘But we need to embrace it because the benefits are just too good.’  

The publication of Improving digital literacy is an important development, he believes. ‘We hope the document helps front-line nurses.

‘It recognises the knowledge base of nursing and the role digital technology can have in enhancing clinical care. It gives nursing staff a reference point to help them understand their place in the digital journey.’

Top tips to improve your digital literacy

  • If you lack confidence, engage with and learn from your nursing colleagues who use social media – for example Twitterchats run by organisations such as WeNurses and the RCN. ‘There’s some great informal learning out there,’ says Susan Kennedy. ‘Explore and you’ll find there’s a lot going on that you can just tap into, improving your knowledge and confidence.’
  • Make sure your voice is heard. ‘Get involved in projects and become active in the process, rather than just being told what to do,’ advises Matt Butler. ‘You should feel that your needs are being met and technology isn’t being inflicted on you, but instead that you are empowered.’
  • Identify the digital champions in your own workplace. ‘Ask yourself who you would go to, if you needed advice and help when something new is being implemented,’ says Ms Kennedy. ‘Think about ways you can connect with them, having informal conversations that will support you.’


Find out more


Lynne Pearce is a freelance health journalist

 

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