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Community healthcare ‘needs nursing information officers’



Queen’s Nursing Institute report says measures are needed to overcome barriers to using digital systems in the sector

Community nursing providers have been urged to appoint a chief nursing information officer and improve employee training in IT to overcome the barriers to using digital technology in the sector.

The recommendations have come in a report from a leading charity, the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI), that says there is still significant resistance to using new technology.

Titled Nursing in the Digital Age, it points to a number of problems in the use of IT in community healthcare. They include a reliance on outdated systems, the fact that much of the IT has not been tailored to community nursing, and that poor connectivity hinders mobile working, with systems failing to update, synchronise or function.

In addition, the sector has used a large number of IT suppliers, which has led to the use of databases and systems that are incompatible with each other. A survey of 534 community health professionals by the QNI revealed there are 67 differently named IT systems in use.

Other findings pointed towards the desire to use digital technology coupled with the continuing constraints: 74% of community nurses find IT more reliable than using paper; but 29% are still working largely with paper systems; and 41% of NHS trusts do not use telehealth systems. Also, 28% of services use a text messaging facility to remind patients of appointments.

Appointment and commissioning

The appointment of chief nursing information offices is one of the recommendations for overcoming the barriers, along with commissioning only systems that are designed in collaboration with users, and involving clinicians in the redesign of systems.

The report also recommends that service providers should also work with appointed clinical leads on employee training, which should be tailored to individuals and teams, and that there should be a recognition and report on the value of mobile working.

Funding organisations are urged to provide appropriate ring-fenced resources to digitise community health services, to develop standards to support consistency in healthcare systems, and ensure systems are developed specifically for staff working in community settings.

Dr Crystal Oldman (pictured), the QNI’s chief executive, commented: “The report presents a complex picture that shows wide variation between the large number of provider organisations involved in providing care in people’s homes and communities. Most people now use IT in many aspects of their personal lives, so they expect very high standards when using information technology in the healthcare setting too.

“Community nurses demonstrate a general confidence in and acceptance of new IT systems that support efficient working and patient care. However, they also highlight in stark detail the challenges that frontline practitioners experience with systems that are complex and which require high quality support from IT departments. In some areas practitioners are frustrated by barriers to new technology, such as incompatible software systems and poor connectivity.

“When managed well, good IT systems should enable nurses to spend more time giving direct patient facing care. However, when problems do arise, community nurses are concerned that they spend more time managing the demands of IT systems rather than the pressing needs of their patients, families, carers and communities.”

Image from QNI

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