Nurses Must Embrace IT

Nurses need to be involved in the design and implementation of new technology in the workplace, according to speakers at the NSWNA Professional Day.

Invent your future

Professor Sohail Inayatullah, health futurist and scientist, kicked off Professional Day by outlining some key innovations in the future of nursing.

Sohail said the ‘next big thing’ in IT was Health 3.0: the use of affordable devices to measure what is appropriate to your health. For example, if you have a hamburger, the device will tell you how much water has been used to create it, and what it does to your body or health. Patients will have to ask whether they can afford to have the hamburger if they have health insurance and the insurance company may not pay out if eating the hamburger is going to give them a heart attack.

‘Apps such as the iStethoscope, which can listen to your heart, lungs and bowel sounds, record them and send to your GP, are already available,’ he said. ‘The iPhone is gradually not being seen as just a phone but as a health device.’

Sohail predicts devices that can map out people’s emotional states. ‘You’ll be able to locate where the “bliss spots” are in a building. We’re starting in this direction – it’s about 10 or 20 years away,’ he said.

Update on e-health records

By 1 July next year, the frameworks underpinning the national e-health system will be in place, according to Peter Fleming, CEO of the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).

Its aim is to connect systems so medical practitioners can send and receive information easily. ‘Pilots are taking place in regards to secure messaging between the Northern Territory and South Australia at the moment, and IBM has the contract to create the authentication system,’ said Peter.

When asked how the rollout of the e-health system would affect nurses, he said it would change the information nurses will have available as well as impacting on workloads. ‘We are putting in place partners to map out the workflow issues for nurses.’

Peter allayed one delegate’s fears that money for the new system would put additional pressure on local healthcare budgets. ‘There has been substantial provision of funds for e-health – around $880 million from the Federal Government and COAG combined. We’re not looking to put pressure on local healthcare budgets,’ he said.

Nursing informatics: Educate yourselves

‘Nurses are not afraid of technology. Maybe they were five years ago but not now. We must debunk this myth,’ said Julianne Oorloff, Chair of the Victorian Branch of Health Informatics Society of Australia.

According to the American Nurses’ Association, nursing informatics is a speciality that interlinks nursing science, computer science and information science to effectively manage communications data.

‘Nursing is information-intensive and dependent. Technology can help us in decision-making, with communications and enhance collaboration with other professionals … But nurses need IT skills; they need training in information and communications technology,’ said Julianne.

‘Nurses are in the best position to refine and develop e-health systems. In our workplaces we link the workflow. We need to consider what the process is and have the language and tools to describe it. Systems are tools – they will only work if you give them the right information.’

Make technology work for you

Nurses need to overcome their barriers of scepticism when it comes to IT and start collecting and analysing patient data, said Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer at NSW Health, Debra Thoms.

‘Analysing data enables nurses to make decisions on patient care,’ she said.

In addition to being involved in the process of the design of the IT systems at healthcare facilities, nurses must also be trained in IT skills.

‘Anecdotally, IT training is low. We need greater investment in education and training. Younger nurses coming into the profession will expect good IT systems and if they are not in place, this may impact retention,’ said Debra.

However, nurses should not become so dependent on technology that they start to mistrust their own judgement, she warned. ‘Simulation and virtual technology are complementary to bedside care.’