Why making every nurse an e-nurse matters now more than ever


Our Chief Nurse, Anne Cooper, writes about the opportunities new technology present to nursing. This article originally appeared in the Nursing Standard.

I don't know about you, but technology has become an integral part of the way I live my life. As a citizen, many of the services I need are now accessible digitally and as a person who has Type 1 Diabetes, my support is increasingly through emails.  

That's why I'm pleased NHS Digital is today endorsing the RCN's "Making every nurse an e-nurse" campaign and committing to playing a supporting role in making that ambition a reality.

Nurses and midwives will always need to give hands-on care but digital technology and data are creating new opportunities to change the way we deliver care in almost every setting. 

Embracing new technology is a help, not a barrier, to improving patient care. It is important that the professions respond positively to these opportunities and that's why being a modern nurse, in other words an 'e-nurse', matters.  

Being an e-nurse means we have to develop new skills and capabilities to deal with the fast-paced digital world. For example, we need the skills to enable us to support people who want to communicate digitally and to help people access new digital resources that are safe and evidence-based, such as apps and wearable devices.

Technology and information can make nursing safer because we can share information about patients with other professionals also involved in their care. An e-Nurse has to understand what good information governance looks like and how to share information safely.

Data can help reduce unwarranted variation. It allows us to identify where there are gaps; the health and wellbeing gap, the care and quality gap and the funding and efficiency gap. Nursing, midwifery and care staff have a crucial role in this drive.  There are some reasons why health and care outcomes may vary over which we have no control. Unwarranted variations are those which we could change if we choose to. They can be a sign of poor quality care, missed opportunities and waste, and can result in poorer outcomes, poorer experience and increased expense.  Data helps us to explore these opportunities.

Using technology can make us more efficient. There is evidence emerging that recording observations on electronic devices that raise alerts if there is deterioration in the patient's condition also helps to save time. It is also a much safer way of observing patients and helps in identifying deterioration early. 

Apps and wearables also help us to grasp opportunities to support some people to stay fit, healthy and well - 'All Our Health' calls on practitioners to make sure we all use their skills and relationships to maximise their impact on avoidable illness, health protection and promotion of wellbeing and resilience. This could include encouraging people to use tools and devices.

Finally, practitioners have a key role in ensuring those who do not have access to digital resources are enabled to access services. This could be through information navigation but could also be helping citizens and patients develop new skills. An e-Nurse will be confident in increasing individuals' motivation to develop those capabilities and supporting individuals in accessing and using digital tools and resources. They will take responsibility for unlocking some of the barriers to accessing technology in healthcare.

If we look outside of our professional work and how the digital agenda is affecting the rest of our lives, we can see that healthcare, too, cannot stand still. In recognition of this, Health Education England and the RCN have published a document that assesses the digital capabilities that e-Nursing might demand in the increasingly digital world. If we use that report as a framework and all work together, we can achieve the goal of making every nurse an e-nurse.