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Community nurses face 'continuing reliance' on paper due to IT challenges, warns report

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Over a quarter of community nurses still use paper-based systems, despite the vast majority who utilise technology saying they find digital ways of working more reliable, according to a new report.

Similarly, workforce planning is being carried out manually in most cases (67%) as opposed to an e-rostering system being used, according to the Queen’s Nursing Institute report, which is based on survey results of 500 community nurses.

“In some cases paper records were manually transferred onto IT systems at a later time. This duplication of work is time-intensive”

QNI report

The survey revealed around 85% of community nurses believed that by using technology they saved time and their productivity increased.

However, the findings uncovered a number of barriers to nurses being able to work in digital ways, including problems with internet connectivity in patients’ homes, lack of suitable devices – such as laptops and tablets – and IT systems at different services not being compatible with one another.

The survey identified a ”continuing reliance” on paper record-keeping, said the report, called Nursing in the Digital Age – Using Technology to Support Patients at Home.

“In some cases paper records were manually transferred onto IT systems at a later time. This duplication of work is time-intensive and also increases the possibility for information to be entered inaccurately or incompletely entered,” it said.

“Respondents reported that the use of social media in a professional context was hindered by organisations themselves”

QNI report

The report highlighted that around 95% of the UK population owned a mobile phone, which provided an “opportunity to engage with patients in a timely and cost-effective manner” – but only 28% of community nurses said they used text messaging to inform patients of visits and times.

“The survey found that when communicating with patients, text messaging facilities are often overlooked, with preference for emails or more established forms of communication such as letter, phone or face-to-face contact,” said the report.

Similarly, the report noted that 63% of adults state social media is an integral part of their everyday lives – and yet the survey showed the majority of nurses did not use social media in a professional context.

“Respondents reported that the use of social media in a professional context was hindered by organisations themselves, with many prohibiting its use, or not as actively engaged as they might be,” said the report.

The report makes 10 recommendations for employers and funding bodies, including ring-fenced digital investment, standards for the use of IT systems and understanding of data across health and care providers, and the appointment of a chief nursing information officer at organisations.

“When managed well, good IT systems should enable nurses to spend more time giving direct patient facing care”

Crystal Oldman

QNI chief executive Dr Crystal Oldman said the report painted a complex picture, with wide variation between 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,” she said.

“Community nurses demonstrate a general confidence in and acceptance of new IT systems that support efficient working and patient care,” said Ms Oldman.

“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,” she added.

“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,” she said.

anne cooper nhs digital

Anne Cooper NHS Digital

Anne Cooper

Anne Cooper, chief nurse at NHS Digital, said: “We are at the cusp of a great opportunity to use technology to really accelerate the contribution of community nurses to the wide system changes we need.

“The possibilities of managing caseloads alone, to free resources, and to ensure we have the right practitioners, in the right place, at the right time, to meet the needs of patients, seems to have great potential,” she added.

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