The Nursing Experience Divide and Technology: What Hospitals Need to Know

By Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN, chief nurse, Wolters Kluwer, Health Learning, Research and Practice.

Anne Dabrow Woods

These are the days we never thought we’d see – unimagined times, pushing our nurses and healthcare workers to the brink with the demands of COVID-19. They’ve stepped up with unbelievable courage and resiliency. They’ve done so without many of the resources they’ve traditionally had, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment. But one thing that’s undoubtedly made a difference is technology.

Patients have been able to interact with their primary care provider and nurses via telehealth ensuring that patients are able to continue with the medications and treatment plans for chronic conditions and new issues.

In the acute care space, it has enabled patients to visit with their family through digital technology, and providers and nurses have been able to update the families on patients’ progress.

After patients are discharged with COVID-19, the patient is in daily contact with a nurse to make sure their condition isn’t worsening, and they understand how to care for themselves. This works to ensure patients have follow-up care and the family is supported. And those are just a few ways.

It’s through that lens of technology that we look at our recent independent healthcare study, Next-Generation Nurses: Empowered & Engaged.

While the survey was taken prior to the pandemic, the results give insight into the role of technology as it applies to both next-generation nurses (those with less than 10 years of practice) and more experienced ones. The survey conducted by Wolters Kluwer aimed to explore the mindset of today’s nurses and healthcare workers, so hospitals can respond accordingly.

Digital natives versus techno-phobes

When looking at next-generation nurses, we should keep in mind that many of them grew up in a time with widespread use of the internet, social media, and mobile communication. Many nurses with longer tenure began their careers when the internet was in its infancy and computers weren’t an integral part of a hospital’s operations.

Next-generation nurses are, for the most part, digital natives. That comfort level does tend to influence their opinions: when care is better, next-generation nurses think it’s because of technology. 84% believe clinical-decision support systems at the point of care are making it easier to make the most informed, evidenced-based care decisions.

In addition, 84% feel specialized systems that provide treatment recommendations and integrate with electronic health records (EHRs) have a positive impact on how care is delivered.

Their understanding of technology may be a factor in them spending less time in EHRs than their more seasoned counterparts; 69% report spending too much time in EHRs, compared to 81% of more experienced nurses.

Next-generation nurses are fans of artificial intelligence (AI). 63% say they are optimistic that the use of AI will help providers get the information they need to make better care decisions.

Experienced nurses weren’t as convinced, with only half agreeing that AI will help in making better care decisions. (This insight should alert hospital leaders of the need to educate staff on how AI can improve clinical decision making so that implementation of AI will be viewed as a positive and not as a negative.)

Technology does have its drawbacks, though

So, if you’re getting the impression that next-generation nurses think emerging technologies will enhance care, you’d be right. They’re also aware of the limitations: 82% consider incorrect or bad quality data to be a source of risk to patient safety or increased costs today; while this same percentage agree that more comprehensive patient information is needed to drive optimal patient care.

Over half perceive that the lack of interoperability and/or exchange of patient information across hospitals or healthcare systems negatively impacts the care of patients. This contrasts with the perceptions of more experienced nurses.

A wake-up call for hospitals and clinics

What do these disconnects on technology between next-generation nurses and experienced nurses mean? In a nutshell, it’s a wake-up call to the opportunities and challenges created by technology. In terms of challenges, technology only persists in evolving and its role within healthcare continues to intensify.

If technology is implemented and utilized correctly, there is opportunity to improve the quality of care delivered to patients. Therefore, ensuring that experienced and next-gen nurses feel comfortable with technology and the data derived from it is crucial.

Experienced nurses don’t recognize the full power of technology in advancing healthcare management. Recognizing this fact provides an opportunity to educate more experienced nurses on how technology can be used within workflow to improve clinical decision making with the overall goal to improve healthcare overall.

While next-generation nurses can certainly help their more seasoned colleagues navigate the world of technology, they present another opportunity. Leaders must ensure the data derived from technology is credible and that there are the right tools in place to analyze the data accurately.

Using patient data to learn about individual and community healthcare needs is crucial as healthcare organizations are tasked with addressing the population health demands of their community.

Next-gen nurses possess the knowledge and comfort with data and technology to take the reins as patient advocates making them well-prepared to sustain the future of nursing while navigating a complex and changing healthcare system.

Is your hospital ready?

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