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OPINION

Playing 'catch-up' with technology in patient care

I had a lightbulb moment last week - you know, where you actually see something that you have heard about in practice, prompting an ‘Ah! So that’s what it looks like!’ thought.

Interestingly, I was in Israel - which I instantly fell in love with but didn’t really expect to see what I saw there.

So what is it I am going on about? Leadership.

There is a lot of debate going on in the world of health informatics at present about how crucial clinical leadership is for technology adoption, but it seems that nurses are not being as active as they might be. Bearing in mind the size of the nursing population, I think it is fair to say that you would expect more nurses to be talking about technology and looking at how we can use it to help our patients. However, in Israel I witnessed a brilliant example of how senior leadership can make this happen, and how it can help patients.

During my stay we visited a community health service in Tel Aviv, which is rather like a provider service in primary care. They have many of the services we would offer - family, out-of-hours, community nursing, palliative care, and so on. The executive team in the organisation had decided that using technology to support care delivery needed to be one of their strategic objectives. They had five key objectives, of which, using technology was one.

‘So what?’ I can hear you say; I guess, like me, you have seen lots of strategic documents that are fairly meaningless. Well, this is where it gets interesting. We had presentations from five nurse managers, each delivering different services from the last, but every single one of whom displaying creative thought surrounding the use of technology in new ways to assist with patient care.

They were taking some measured risks but, for me, that is the only way to adopt new approaches. I’m not talking about being a maverick; I’m just talking about not being fearful of trying new things - as long as you assess to make sure you are operating within the bounds of acceptable risk.

What examples did I see? Family nurses were giving breastfeeding advice via webcam; wound care given by specialist teams using high-definition cameras - the patients and specialist teams in different locations; CHD services delivered using remote monitoring equipment and telephone follow-up; and medication dispensing devices which set off an alarm in a call centre if patients didn’t open that day’s medication.

I could go on.

I am sure that you will realise that none of these things are new; what was so exciting was the fact that there were examples throughout the entire organisation.

What I saw was good leadership in informatics that was making a real difference in freeing-up teams so that they could be more creative, think differently and work with patients to try new ways of working across a whole organisation. Isn’t it time we stepped up too?

Anne Cooper is National Clincial Lead for Nursing, Department of Health Informatics Directorate.

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