Leveraging technology to support the future of nursing
Nurses make up the largest healthcare workforce in Australia and have continued to work tirelessly on the frontlines of the pandemic. Studies have reported that nurses face a high level of occupational stress because of increased expectations, lack of professional skills and minimal support from employers. This stress has worsened during the pandemic, related to unclear information and uncertainty regarding COVID-19 treatment and care policies. In turn, this has affected care quality and even led to resignations throughout the industry. It is estimated that Australia will have a shortage of more than 100,000 nurses by 2025, and this will likely be heightened by the pandemic.
Over the next decade, healthcare systems will continue to transform. Digital health technologies are set to empower healthcare educators, students and professionals in their daily tasks and responsibilities, including learning and teaching, clinical practice and translational research. Ultimately, these advancements can improve the quality of patient care.
We must re-examine the future of nursing and how we can use technology to support a digitally empowered nursing workforce.
Laying the foundation for digital health technologies
For digital transformation to succeed, we first need quality data. Standardised, clean and secured data allows healthcare institutions to create a holistic view of the patient and enables healthcare professionals to personalise treatments and improve the overall quality of care.
The Australian Government has invested in a number of digital health initiatives, aiming to create a single, online patient health record that stores key health information. By doing so, healthcare professionals can obtain a holistic view of the patient anytime, anywhere — thus, ensuring seamless continuity of care. However, this massive amount of data will also make it challenging for clinicians to analyse and extract insights manually. We need to provide them with the right tools to gather, organise and analyse this information.
Clinical decision support (CDS) solutions can be integrated with existing electronic health record systems. Following integration, the database can serve as a guide for nurses to make evidence-based decisions. A database of credible and accurate information at the point of care enables nurses to support patient management. The insights can provide nurses with greater confidence in their care decisions, relieving some of the stress.
Creating a digitally empowered healthcare workforce
Digital transformation is set to support the future of nursing and close the gap in the nursing shortage. It has the potential to improve workforce productivity, provide clinical skills support and enhance the quality of patient outcomes. However, for it to drive a positive change in the lives of healthcare workers and their patients, we need to encourage widespread adoption. This begins by removing obstacles for nurses to use technology when caring for patients.
The Australasian Institute of Digital Health was created to transform the healthcare system through digital technologies, specifically by developing digital health capabilities of the healthcare workforce. Building on that, the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) in partnership with the Australian College of Nursing announced the launch of a new professional development program for nurses in 2020, which identifies the necessary digital health capabilities nurses need to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of patient care. With a professional learning framework in place, we are empowering nurses to incorporate the latest digital technologies into their workflow.
The pandemic has changed the way nurses receive their education. Nursing schools across the nation have scrambled to switch to remote learning, while training modules have gone mostly digital to minimise the risk of infection within the community.
For example, Elsevier’s learning platforms have seen a 35x increase in usage compared with the pre-pandemic period. Skills, simulation and 3D/AR capabilities are in high demand to ensure better engagement during the learning journey. Digital simulation tools have also been implemented to prepare nursing and medical students for early integration into the workforce, along with point-of-care tools to hone decision-making skills.
Having these learning technologies in place to train nurses empowers them to practise confidently and address their concerns about skill inadequacy. Undoubtedly, this change will relieve the demands of patient care during the pandemic. In doing so, it will alleviate the burden on nurses on the verge of burnout and, hopefully, prevent them from leaving the practice.
Adjusting to the new normal
As the world adjusts to the new normal, more patients are turning to technology to seek non-emergency care. In Australia, there were more than 30 million telehealth consultations in 2020. Telehealth consultations allowed anyone, regardless of their location, to seek advice from a medical professional. This technology alleviates the burden of overcrowding in acute hospital settings, as nurses can prioritise patients in times of emergencies and deliver equal non-emergency care.
We need to support nurses who provide telehealth services with quick access to resources to make well-informed decisions for patients outside of the hospital environment. Evidence-based knowledge platforms and open-access resources can help nurses easily retrieve vital information on COVID-19 and other disease management resources. Providing nurses access to such tools empowers them to deliver the safest and best care for patients. For instance, in 2020, Elsevier launched the COVID-19 Healthcare Hub, which offers evidence-based research on the latest COVID-19 guidelines and research materials, along with toolkits for nurses. It also includes resources such as care plans and procedure videos, empowering nurses and other healthcare professionals to make efficient, evidence-based clinical decisions remotely.
This allows nurses to be empowered to provide remote care to non-emergency cases and confidently deliver clinical decisions at the point of care — thus, helping to alleviate the stress they feel when adopting these new models of care delivery.
Technology innovations are advancing the future of health care and nursing. We need to encourage the adoption and assimilation of digital technologies within the healthcare ecosystem so that nurses are equipped with the skills and digital capabilities to be successful in this new era.
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