Joining the technological revolution

Ian Bailey discusses why nurses need to embrace technology for themselves and for their patients.

Prevarication is a terrible thing. It’s 11am and I’ve been sat at my desk trying to write this piece for two hours. Even though I know what I want to say, I always struggle to start. I’ve completed a number of other (less important) tasks on my ‘to-do list’ as well as some that weren’t on the list but offered a distraction from the blank page in front of me.

What is fascinating is just how many of these distractions now involve technology — I’ve checked my emails; sent text messages; ‘tweeted’; booked train tickets; arranged meetings; made new contacts on LinkedIn; ordered my shopping online; and had a video conference.

Technology is all around us and while it enables us to do things that were not possible in the past, I still talk to nurses around the country who have very different levels of professional engagement with it. There are many different reasons why technology still isn’t widely used in health care: cost; lack of resources; technical barriers — but from experience the hardest to address (and often the ones that remain unresolved), are the human factors, such as fear and unfamiliarity. My experience, however, suggests that by addressing just a few key issues, clinicians’ experience of technology could be so much more rewarding.

The aim 

As nurses, we hope that everything we do and any equipment we use results in better outcomes for our patients. What we don’t often see is that using technology in our professional lives can also benefit us personally. For example, mobile working is often described as a ‘time-saving’ measure or a way of having better information at your ’fingertips’. But how often do we think of mobile working as a way of allowing us to leave home later in the morning to avoid the rush-hour traffic; or completing our non-patient facing tasks at home? Nursing may be an unselfish profession, but we each have needs that can be serviced by technology.

The culture

When it comes to adopting new ways of working, how many times have you heard the immortal words: ‘We’ve always done it like that.’ But technology can act as a trigger to try different things and change our professional culture. Technology enables quicker communication; more efficient working practices; provides access to a wealth of knowledge and support; and brings access to a range of materials that can help patients to self-care more easily, for example.

Implementing technological change in isolation might only achieve small benefits, but creating a shared culture where all of these improvements are embedded has the potential to revolutionise our working lives.

The individual 

Thankfully we’re all different. In nursing, arguably more than inmost other professions, this gives us the collective strength and ability to improve what we do. It also means, however, that we need to be respectful of others. 

When using technology it’s easy to conform to stereotypical messages, ‘I’m too old to understand computers,’ or even, ‘she’s young, and tech-savvy’. While these assumptions may be correct for some, it’s important that all of our skills and abilities are considered.

The solutions 

Cultural change requires a ‘critical mass’ — enough people with a shared vision and the drive and enthusiasm to achieve it. If the vision for technology is directly related to better outcomes for patients and the implementation engages with clinical staff, the only question will be: ‘How did we ever do without it?’ With technology, like any other change, individuals must be allowed to learn at a pace and in a way that best suits them.

When it comes to technology, however, the biggest challenge is often the personal one. Are you prepared to change? Technology in nursing isn’t going away and nor should it. I would urge all nurses to be prepared for technology and embrace it. Only then can we make it work for our patients and — just as importantly — for us.

This article was written by Ian Bailey, senior clinical informatics consultant, EMIS Health.

The original article can be read in the Journal of General Practice Nursing.