Technology is now weaving its way into most clinical areas, says Jessica Ross, who warns against potential negative consequences for patients
Over the past four years as a student nurse and now post qualification, I have observed a gradual increase in the use, focus and reliance on technology in the NHS and in patient care. High dependency areas, such as critical care, were previously more associated with technology-mediated care. But technology is now weaving its way into most clinical areas and playing an increasing in patient interactions.
At the trust where I trained as a nurse, the concept of electronic observations (e-obs) has recently been introduced. It involves the use of a portable device, such as a tablet to record patient observations, escalate patient care and make direct referrals to appropriate professionals. It is a brilliant innovation that helps capture accurate and relevant patient information, making it accessible to those who need it, thus in turn supporting timely discharge.
However, when asked to consider the effect of e-obs and technology in general on person-centred care, opinions tend to vary. A literature review for a university assignment revealed that, when working in a technology-oriented environment, clinicians can begin to see technology as the dominant language, above the patients themselves. This can lead to a tendency to ignore or overlook clinical signs in favour of inputting information correctly and responding to prompts on the devices. Similarly, elements of non-verbal communication can be lost. If the clinician focuses on the technological device, rather than the patient, this could affect the rapport between patients and healthcare staff. It can also affect the clinician’s eye contact and ability to actively listen.
Risk factors relating to the potential impact technology could have on patient care relate to the traits of the nurse or clinician using it. The Mind the Gap (2015) report by Health Education England and Birmingham and Solihull Local Education and Training Council defines baby boomers as those who are less used to technology in their social and home environments. As a result, this group, born between 1946 and 64, may find interaction with technology more difficult. It may also struggle more than the later generations who are used to technology when maintaining a patient-centred approach in technology-oriented environments. While this is a stereotype, it is one example of how the traits of a nurse or clinician may impact on the delivery of person-centred care in the face of technology.
Support, training and self-reflection practices should be maximised, when staff are using technological devices in patient care, to overcome the potential risks listed above. The RCN offers helpful guides to use technology in clinical practice as an information source in line with the NMC code of conduct. Technology use will continue to increase in the NHS. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the effects of technological advancements, such as e-obs, on patient-centred care, so nurses can be reflective and aware, and ensure technology does not provide a barrier to good person-centred patient care.
Jessica Ross is a newly qualified staff nurse at Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham.
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