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Should we all be nurse 'geeks'?


‘We have to stop thinking of IT as specialist skills that only “geeky” nurses use - we have a responsibility to foster the right skills to help our patients’ says Anne Cooper, national clinical lead for nursing with the DoH Informatics Directorate

If I say this piece is about “informatics”, I wonder how many of you will stop reading right now? 

But the truth of it is that we are all “informaticians”, not only in our work life, but also our social lives. We use technology all the time; we have Smartphones, at home, we programme our digiboxes to record our favourite programmes and search for holiday information online.

In our professional lives, it is much the same. We have to stop thinking of information management or IT as specialist skills that only “geeky” nurses use; we have a responsibility to make sure we have the right skills to help our patients and these include skills relating to information and technology.

I will give you an example. These days most patients rightly expect to be given high quality information during their contact with health services. They expect information about what is happening to them, about the services they have contact with (for example, opening times and car parking). The need for public services to be more transparent has raised overall expectations about people having access to information about how services perform. Patients need information about conditions and treatments that they can rely on and trust, such as a diagnosis, how to manage symptoms and about what treatments they may be offered.  There are lots of reasons why this is the case, but better-informed patients often report better experiences. As a result of being better informed, they can help themselves more positively, particularly those with long term conditions.

This shift in patient behaviour is starting to happen, with some GPs reporting that some patients now arrive armed with print-outs reflecting the research they have done before their appointments.

Not all patients, however, have the skills to do this research and some may require the help of professionals they come into contact with. Would you know where to access all the information the patient might need? 

The NHS Choices website is a good example of how you can help. The website is already used by around eight and half million people a month and this includes patients and professionals. The site has information about conditions, treatments, services and allows patients to compare these services all in one place. It also allows patients to comment on these services.

If you haven’t already visited the site, you might like to do so and next time a patient asks your advice about, for example, choosing a new GP, you can recommend it to them. Or, if you have access to the internet, you could look at the site with them. The ‘Find and Choose Services’ section is particularly useful, as is the high quality information in the Health A-Z.

And if you want to get fit for summer, don’t miss the hugely popular Couch to 5K!

Anne Cooper is the national clinical lead for nursing with Department of Health Informatics Directorate.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Who thinks this exactly? 'Nurse geeks' is certainly not a term or a belief I have ever come across. I am part of a generation who grew up with computers and I am perfectly comfortable and literate with them, and I do not consider myself young anymore. There are younger people than me who are even more savvy than I am. I understand older generations may not have those skills, but that doesn't mean they cannot be learned.

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  • "We use technology all the time; we have Smartphones, at home, we programme our digiboxes to record our favourite programmes and search for holiday information online."

    tedious, i am already fed up with having to recharge all the batteries and feel i spend more time with IT than with normal face to face human contact and i guess it is the same for many which leads to changes in the brain, changes in socialisation patterns and possibly increases stress and disease (cf possible link between smartphones and cancer) and mental health problems.

    i don't have a smartphone and my mobile is only for emergencies. watching all the frenzied activity in public places is enough to drive me crazy without needing this to tip the balance. dangerous too in traffic or even walking along the pavements, around shops or in any public place for that matter. and those who chat on the phone instead of talking to those they are with or treating those on the supermarket checkouts as though they didn't even exist shows an ultimate lack of courtesy. imagine doing that job all day with customers who do not even acknowledge your presence. imagine having a sensitive talk with a patient, examining them or carrying out a treatment and the mobile goes as i saw on the telly the other day - how is the patient made to feel? If you are with someone, look them in the eye to signal that you are giving them you full attention, and are content to be with them, without interruptions and ignoring them or cutting them short in the middle of a conversation to speak to others on a mobile. it is sheer arrogance which signifies you time is more important than theirs. and some don't even know the limits and have them ring in the middle of a lecture - how distracting and rude is that to the speaker, especially when they have put themselves out in terms of preparation and travel to come and speak to you!

    All the useful information out there is of great benefit to patients. this cannot be denied but they need to learn to be selective as there is also a lot of false information. however, this should not be at the expense of human encounters, especially in the caring professions where support from professionals is also needed, and who derives benefit in living in such an increasingly impersonal, self service automated robotic society?

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  • IT has a very useful place, and I agree with previous comments, it is not a new and geeky option. My only negative thoughts on the IT is after having been to see nurses and GPs who face the computer while they go through the process of interview/assessment, please remember it is a patient, it is not that hard to complete after the patient has left. And for the info needed to input there and then, please look at the patient when asking the questions, not the screen, many thanks.

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  • The comments made by 'anonymous' really concern me. What you are worried about is (once again) basic nursing care and (not least) quite simply bad manners. Whilst reading this article the risk of this happening didn't cross my mind - and I'm glad it didn't. I think it is so sad that you would be worried about a nurse breaking off a conversation (sensitive or otherwise) with a patient to answer the phone! Does this demonstrate the differences between nursing education from 20 years ago to the present day? Scary.
    Nurses have always needed to deal with a lot of information at once, yet prioritise when and how they access it accordingly, this is critical to their role.
    On a much more positive note, good quality information that patients and nurses can share and access equally is really exciting and empowering for both and should be embraced as such.

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