Digital technology has crept into most of our clinical and professional lives.
More from: Diary of a digital nurse fellowship
From e-expenses to digital observations systems, most of us are using electronic records systems to a greater or lesser degree.
This can sometimes lead organisations to assume that investing in digital clinical specialist roles may not be needed as we are all getting better at embracing informatics.
Digital roll-outs can happen without specialist clinical roles, but patient safety – as well as staff, carer, patient and public engagement – are better with digital clinical specialists as leaders on the team.
These roles work as vital conduits between the digital informatics jargon of the technology sphere and the people using and working in the system. They are crucial in every stage of a system roll-out – in the preliminary stages, the ‘Go-Live’ stage and the maintenance and support stage.
Clinical informatics nurses or digital lead roles have been around for many years and we have some pioneers who have shown us all the way. However, in the UK it is unclear how we should build a formal route into this specialty.
Some countries such as the US have made the route into a digital career more structured for health professionals. Informatics nurses, doctors or allied health professionals play pivotal roles in rolling out digital projects successfully in clinical practice. These roles also help organisations build the resilience required to carry out multiple roll-outs safely.
So should we leave the development of these roles to chance or should we take a lead and start to formalise them?
“We probably need to start by defining what informatics is and then look at what we already have to build a career framework with resilience”
Some form of career framework would be helpful for people who can be the bridge between technology systems developers and those working in clinical care.
Staff in our healthcare system would be able to see how patient outcomes and safety can be helped by technology.
We probably need to start by defining what informatics is and then look at what we already have to build a career framework with resilience.
In the UK we have Digital Health, which hosts a network for these specialist roles. This is a voluntary network and members have a variety of titles making it difficult to identify clearly who are in clinical roles.
The network is a starting point from which we can begin to build a comprehensive career structure with competencies and a portfolio to help those in digital and informatics maintain both their clinical and emerging informatics skills and expertise.
Growing the group of professionals that are operating both in the nursing and digital informatics spheres to help improve patient outcomes is crucial in organisations as technology is going to keep changing and developing.
We need clinical staff to take the lead by looking at new developments coming from all over the globe and developing capacity to build systems internally where needed. We must develop the clinical informatics leaders of the future, today.
Lesley Jones is nurse fellow (digital) at NHS Improvement.
This series of blogs has been co-produced with help from trust staff looking at and introducing systems: Arran Rogers, Royal Berkshire NHS FT; Jane Benfield Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust; Sam Neville, Basildon and Thurrock NHS Trust; and Dr Natasha Phillips, University College London.
Do we need specialist nursing informatics posts?