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The digital transformation of nursing

By Hayley Valentine, clinical consultant, Ascom

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Former critical care nurse Hayley Valentine discusses the impact of the NHS digital transformation on those working at its frontline.

Hayley Valentine, a clinical consultant for healthcare communication specialist Ascom and a former critical care nurse, discusses the impact of the NHS digital transformation on those working at its frontline.

I spent 19 years as a nurse, both for the NHS and while working in Australia, before joining Ascom.

Throughout that time, I saw technology take an ever-increasing role in how nurses care for their patients, manage their workload and work with their colleagues. It’s something which has only been further accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The numbers of virtual wards and smart hospitals are growing. Remote health monitoring technology is becoming prevalent and there are many exciting innovations being introduced using virtual and augmented reality.

The digital transformation of the NHS is certainly well underway.

Part of my current role is helping integrate new technology within healthcare environments, and that includes supporting clinicians to not only be comfortable to use it, but also ensure it makes a positive difference to them, as well as their patients.

The focus is often on how patients will acclimatise to a technologically enabled NHS. But it’s just as important to consider the impact digital transformation has on those delivering care.

System overload

Clinicians are under extreme pressure. Often the introduction of a new piece of technology, regardless of how brilliant and revolutionary it may be, can be viewed as a distraction or, worse still, something that will add to their already-overburdened workload. It can switch many clinicians off from the benefits.

A recent poll commissioned by the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA) found that while 65 per cent of the public are open to using digital health technologies, only a fraction of healthcare professionals recommend their use.

It found that 17 per cent of digital health technology recommendations come from GPs, 8 per cent from hospital doctors and just 2 per cent of nurses.

I’m certain that the 98 per cent of nurses who haven’t recommended digital health to their patients aren’t doing so because they can’t see their benefit.

It’s more likely that they are overwhelmed by the flood of technological innovations we’ve witnessed within healthcare – especially since the start of the pandemic.

Digital upskilling

According to the King’s Fund’s 2019 position on digital healthcare:

“Digital technologies are integral to many of the changes envisaged in the NHS long-term plan. Making a reality of these ambitions will require a stronger emphasis on engaging and upskilling the people who are expected to use digital technologies at all levels in the NHS, particularly clinicians”.

The launch of The Digital Health Academy was announced earlier this year. The CPD online training platform aims to ‘actively engage’ over 50,000 UK healthcare professionals in its first year, and all 630,000 NHS healthcare staff by 2031.

Despite this, there is currently no mandatory digital health training for nurses and no provision, that I’m aware of, for time to be released so they can complete this training.

Practical support is vital. In my role at Ascom I work closely with clinicians to show them how the technology works practically, whether that’s from helping establish a virtual ward or introducing new systems that enable interoperability between medical devices.

Providing nurses with a voice

Earlier this year, chief nursing officer at NHS England, Ruth May, said that she wants to see a chief nursing information officer (CNIO) in every organisation in order to help drive the NHS digital agenda.

She said:

“I was pleased to appoint the very first chief information officer. But I would like to see in every organisation, every organisation, a chief nursing information officer because I think that will give us the voice, the co-ordination and the network for us to make some bigger changes”.

May added:

“I’m delighted to work with colleagues to build on the Topol Review to look at how we commission a comprehensive review of the workforce needed and the digital skills needed for the workforce of the future”.

Future generations of nurses will enter a digitally enabled NHS. One where patient records will be fully digitised and interoperability a reality, rather than an ambition.

We’re not quite there yet, but for that to happen the nurses of today need to have a voice.

They need to be as engaged and educated as patients. They need to know when it comes to new technology and digitisation, not only what’s in it for their patients, but also what’s in it for them.

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