Empowering Nurses with Digital Innovation and IT Tools

nurse at the bedside using a digital monitor
Written by
Jenna Elizabeth
February 13, 2024

What do you get when you mix nurses with digital health innovation? 

A recipe to transform their practice and significantly improve patient outcomes. At the same time, nurses need support and resources to enhance their digital skills to use these tools effectively. 

Digital innovation in healthcare can help nurses do their jobs better. From barcoding to help track blood products in a medical setting to personalized texts that convince a patient to come in for cervical screening—leveraging digital tools can encourage nurses to provide the highest level of patient care. In this way, healthcare organizations nationwide are choosing to implement digital tools in healthcare settings that can improve care and streamline the workload for nurses.

Yet, due to gaps in training or outdated technology, there is still some frustration around integrating digital systems within a nursing workplace. 

The question comes down to: how can healthcare leaders and administrators help empower nurses to use the latest digital healthcare tools in 2024? 

What Is Nursing Informatics and Why Is it Important? 

Nursing informatics is a specialized field that combines technology and nursing to manage and communicate healthcare data and improve patient care. Per a Journal of Medicine Informatics Association article, a more thorough definition defines nursing informatics as:

"A specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science to manage and communicate data, information, and knowledge in nursing practice. Nursing informatics facilitates the integration of data, information, and knowledge to support patients, nurses, and other providers in their decision-making in all roles and settings."
nurse using a tablet in home health setting
Nurses can use electronic charting tools even in home health and other settings.

Essentially, nursing informatics is a field of nursing that can help ensure that information—such as electronic health records—is as accurate as possible. 

Nursing informatics replaces outdated systems like paper and pencil to decrease medical errors and take preventative steps early. For example, optimizing electronic health records (EHRs) can help identify a patient's status by trending a patient's vital signs. 

Since the information is readily available, a nurse can utilize this data to decide on the best course of action for the patient if a patient's status changes suddenly. This is just one example of digital tools used in healthcare settings. 

Digital tools have exploded in recent years, with many hospitals embracing patient-centered or "patient-facing" digital tools. However, nurse innovators—like those in IT—might not have the support and instruction to put these tools into practice and teach other nurses how to use them. To learn more about this transformation, read our article, “The Era of Smart Hospitals is Upon Us.

What Is an Informatic Nurse?

"Digital nurses are a small but growing community sharing and learning together."  -Karen Payne, head of nursing and quality, NHS Dorset Integrated Care Board

Nursing informatics nurses, also known as IT nurses, or—less formally—digital nurses, are nursing professionals who help bridge the gap between healthcare and technology.

IT nurses are typically registered nurses (RNs) who have earned a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing informatics. While there are several branches of informatics to work for an IT nurse, the general responsibilities of IT and digital nurses may include: 

  • Researching, designing, and implementing new technology
  • Training and educating other nurses on informatics
  • Analyzing, evaluating, and optimizing system performance

Merging human systems with technology can be challenging, and working as an IT nurse may sometimes feel overwhelming. However, there are ways that healthcare administrators and leaders can help empower IT nurses and regular nursing staff to use digital tools confidently. 

Effective Ways to Empower Nurses to Use Digital Tools

"The majority of organizations have job roles and resources focused on the delivery of digital and optimizing digital clinical safety, and in these circumstances, you are less likely to have a clear avenue for innovation. Staff may need to look outside their organization, but this can be challenging."—Simon Noel, Chief Nursing Informatics Nurse at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

You can lead a horse to water but can't make it drink. This classic expression can sometimes be applied when fluidly integrating nursing and technology. In other words, while digital healthcare tools can lead to nursing innovation and efficiency in a healthcare setting, digital literacy and familiarity with these new technologies must also exist. Consequently, healthcare administrators should cultivate a supportive culture that encourages nurses to try out new apps and tools in a healthcare setting. 

With this in mind, the following are some actions that can be taken to encourage creativity in digital health innovation and motivate nurse leaders to use digital tools in their practice:

  1. Provide access to digital tools and technologies: 3D printing, portable diagnostic devices, and healthcare chatbots are just a few examples of digital health innovation technologies changing the nursing landscape. As a result, healthcare administrators and nurse innovators should be familiar with modern digital tools to help nurses streamline their workflow, improve communication, and improve patient care. 
  2. Offer training and education: Giving nurses the instruction and training they need to use digital tools effectively can ensure the success of technology integration in a healthcare setting. To do this, healthcare administrators and hospital administration can design training programs, such as workshops and on-the-job training, to improve digital literacy. Ongoing training for digital literacy can also ensure that nurses feel confident when using new technologies. 
  3. Foster a culture of innovation: A great way to encourage nurses to embrace digital technology is to involve them in the process. For example, healthcare administration could reward nurses who develop or research novel ways to integrate digital tools in medical settings. Nurturing nursing innovation also involves nurses in decision-making, providing them with greater accountability and confidence when using digital tools. 
  4. Offer open communication and channels for feedback: Digital clinical safety is an integral part of digital innovation. Therefore, healthcare administration should always encourage nurses to provide input and speak up about concerns relating to technical support issues or malfunctioning of newly implemented digital technology tools. 
  5. Be realistic about what digital tools are working: Technology and digital innovation in healthcare can enable a nurse workforce to provide excellent patient care. However, not all technology is created equally. In fact, over time, many digital tools need to be optimized or eliminated if they cause more harm than good. For example, outdated or glitchy digital tools, poor connection, or obsolete technology can make a nurse's job harder. When implementing digital healthcare technology, it's always a good idea to take stock and be honest about which tools are practical and which aren't.
nurse using digital tools while working
Digital innovation in healthcare involves tools such as electronic charting.

Digital Innovation in Healthcare and the Future of Nursing

Digital technology in healthcare facilities can help nurses provide patients with efficient, accurate, and personalized care. For this reason, leadership needs to be nurtured within digital health by providing nurse innovators with the proper support and training.

Furthermore, nursing informatics is expanding beyond its current status as a specialty due to a growing dependence on digital systems in medical settings. In this way, nurturing a workplace that feels empowered by digital technology is a big task. However, with the proper guidance and resources, digital tools can significantly improve the well-being of nurses and patients across the country.

Learn how to improve your healthcare facility's efficiency through technology. 

Sources:

Blog published on:
February 13, 2024

Meet Jenna, a contributing writer at Nursa who writes about healthcare news and updates, empathy and compassion for nurses, how to show staff appreciation and increase retention, and guides that help nurses navigate career pathways.

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