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Why more nurses should get involved in technology

By Rebecca Gates, Orion Health

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Rebecca Gates has just become a clinical consultant for shared care record provider Orion Health; and would like to see more of her colleagues getting involved in shaping the digital future.

I retrained as a nurse in my 20s and qualified in 2010. My early career was really varied: I went into high dependency and renal nursing, and then moved to Scotland, where I worked in substance misuse and prisons.

After that, I worked for a medical device company (although I returned to nursing during the pandemic) and I’ve just joined Orion Health as one of two clinical consultants.

I know that a lot of nurses wouldn’t think of working for a technology company, or even getting involved in a technology project, but I’d like to see that change.

We all know that change projects go much better if they come from the bottom-up, instead of being imposed from the top-down.

So, if NHS staff get involved in the development and deployment of technology, we’re going to capture the ground-up experience we need to be successful. And if nurses get involved they can give a voice to their nursing colleagues.

It may surprise you to hear that a lot of IT companies do work with clinical consultants these days: but they’re often doctors, who have a different perspective.

As an example, I’m working on the development of shared care records, and I sometimes find that my medical colleagues focus on how they can be used to treat specific conditions.

That’s important, but what strikes me about these systems is how they can support the holistic care that nurses are known for.

A shared care record pulls together information that would otherwise be locked up in lots of different IT systems, so it gives you the full picture of the patient that you need to deliver holistic support.

Another reason to get involved with technology is that nursing is changing. I work with another clinical consultant who went into nursing in the 1990s, and he’s amazed by all the things I was able to do as a nurse practitioner (and very envious that I was able to prescribe!).

Yet the future is collaborative. It is doctors, nurses and other professionals working together in multi-disciplinary teams to plan and deliver care for our patients. And that can’t happen unless everybody has access to the same, real-time, data.

The future is also going to see more care being delivered in people’s homes. We got a glimpse of this during the Covid-19 pandemic, when we discovered that a lot of appointments can be done by video call and a lot of patients can be supported on virtual wards.

I think that’s exciting. I live in Scotland and its obvious if you are based in the Highlands or on one of the islands, it can be really hard to get to a big city hospital, just for a check-up or appointment. Remote working will open up new ways to care.

It will also open up new ways to engage patients.

Technology can let patients access their own health and care data and advice on how to stay well, and let them decide when to call the care team for help. We need nurses to be involved in all these developments, not just as nurses, but as patient advocates.

A final reason I think nurses should get involved in technology is that it opens up new opportunities to improve things. I love practicing and being hands on with patients, but I know that it can be a long, hard job to change things in the NHS, whereas industry moves fast.

I like the pace of innovation. I like the way I can suggest something to our development team and see it go on our roadmap.

That’s why I’m working for a technology company; it’s a way to make a difference. I have the ability to advocate for change. I’d like more nurses to do the same.

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