Posted on 10/07/2018 by David Burgess
Scottish nurses believe patient care can dramatically improve through technology but instead are struggling with mundane IT issues
Scotland’s nurses are struggling with out of date computers and inadequate technology, a new report has found.
Nurses have identified “depressingly mundane” barriers to improving patient care through digital technology, such as slow computers or lack of availability of equipment.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) report says new technology is also often brought in without consulting nurses about what works and how they use information.
The report is based on a survey of 900 nurses, midwives, students and health care support workers and in-depth focus groups with 100 participants.
Nurses described a clear vision to improve healthcare through technology.
One nurse said: "My dream would be to go online and see any patient's records that I needed to see. They would be together, well-curated, under that patient's name/identifier. It would include GP, acute, community interventions and interactions and all correspondence. There would be click-through contact points for details of other staff involved. As a patient, my dream would be the same..."
Contributors also gave examples of digital technology already in use at some hospitals and community services including mobile systems that allow nurses and other clinicians to input patients' vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure, and which then alert them to any deterioration that might indicate conditions like sepsis; digital networks that link up community staff such as district nurses while out in the field; and apps that allow patients with long-term conditions such as diabetes or COPD to relay data to nurses.
But in contrast to nurses' vision of how the future could look, significant numbers of contributors cited barriers to the full use of digital tools to help patients and transform healthcare.
A common themes that emerged was out of date and inadequate IT systems.
One nurse said: "The single, most fundamental problem is the inadequacy of our IT systems. We are currently upgrading our PCs to run Windows 7 – an OS that is already nearly a decade out of date!
"I hate to think how much nursing time is wasted each day waiting for computers to switch on, load emails, bring up blood results – that is if you can find one that is free".
There was also concern about programmes and systems designed without any nursing input. Another nurse said: "[Decision-makers] often do not know the extent of our work and have never walked in our shoes, yet they make decisions on our behalf and bring in systems for us to use. They have no idea about workflows and how information is used."
Commenting on the findings of the consultation, Ross Scrivener, eHealth lead at the RCN, said: "In the past few weeks leading up to the 70th anniversary of the NHS, we've heard a succession of healthcare leaders arguing that the best way to transform health and social care services in the UK is to utilise the full benefits of digital technology. But our consultation shows that that aim will remain a pipe-dream unless managers, technology providers and IT staff take more account of the views of nursing staff.
"The responses to our survey reveal some depressingly mundane barriers to nurses' full participation in digital transformation, from wifi that doesn't work to computers that take too long to log on.
"But the single most important theme to emerge from the consultation is that involving nursing in the design and implementation of programmes and systems to improve patient care is not an optional add-on - it is absolutely vital if those systems are going to provide the benefits they're supposed to."