To be a nurse, one must possess many different skills, with clinical judgment –the ability to think critically and make quick decisions that impact patient outcomes – being one of the most important. Another increasingly important skill is technology literacy, or the ability to use, understand and manage technology. Elsevier’s recent Clinician of the Future report found that 53% of U.S. nurses believe that technology literacy will become their most valuable capability over the next ten years, ranking higher than clinical knowledge.

The report also found that 54% of U.S. nurses predict they will draw on tools utilizing artificial intelligence to inform most of their clinical decisions. However, 69% of U.S.-based nurses report being overwhelmed with the current volume of data available and 84% of nurses in the U.S. predict the widespread use of digital health technologies will represent an even more challenging burden in the future. Despite these concerns, 59% of nurses in the U.S. still agree that the widespread use of digital health technology will enable a positive transformation of healthcare.

While use of technology in the healthcare setting is not without challenges, I believe it has a net positive benefit, particularly providing nurses with tools and information to enable rapid critical thinking and sound clinical judgment in patient care. I propose three ways higher-education institutions and health systems can maximize technology throughout a nurse’s career.

Utilize Education Technology (EdTech) Solutions

A nurse’s career journey begins in the classroom, and it’s during this time they develop the foundation for clinical judgment and critical thinking they will use throughout their careers. New and emerging forms of educational technology solutions, such as simulation-based and virtual-reality (VR) scenarios are providing students with an immersive way to learn skills in a safe and standardized environment. In these realistic patient scenarios that integrate the latest evidence-based research and education content, nurses can build confidence through practice on digital patients in a virtual environment that encourages exploration, adaptation and the development of critical reasoning skills.

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Shadow Health, a suite of simulation learning products, features a diverse patient set representing various backgrounds with different health concerns. This conversation-based solution allows students to respond to many patient scenarios, while developing clinical judgment skills and practicing therapeutic communication. These innovative forms of education technology are already having a profound impact on how students absorb information. A recent study on the efficiency of patient care skills for nursing students in programs that use Shadow Health found that 82% of learners showed an increase in overall efficiency and 68% were better equipped to identify the number of correct care plan components.

Make the Transition to Practice Easier

As nurses make the transition from nursing school to practice, they are entering an increasingly demanding and complex environment. In addition to patient care responsibilities and keeping up with evolving care guidelines, nurses must also update electronic health records (EHRs) and handle time-consuming administrative work. These stressors can result in high turnover rates, with some hospitals seeing novice nurse turnover as high as 35%.

Learning how to balance these responsibilities can be overwhelming and may be contributing to more patient-related errors for new nurses. According to research from the National Library of Medicine and The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 40% of new graduate nurses reported making medication errors, and 50% reported missing signs of life-threatening conditions. The industry can better support nurses and ensure they are always practice-ready by providing technology solutions.

Providing novice nurses in a hospital setting with simple-to-use tech-based reference and communication tools enables safe, practice-based development of their patient care competency. Nurses can rely on these resources when they have questions or are unsure of procedures, supporting the ongoing development of their critical thinking skills and reducing patient care errors.

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Provide Continued Professional Development on Digital Health Technology

While a nurse’s journey begins in the classroom, ongoing education remains critical throughout their career. The Clinician of the Future report found that 79% of U.S. nurses believe that training and ongoing education needs to be overhauled so they can keep pace with technological advancements. While resident nurses may have been exposed to emerging forms of technology during nursing school and are more comfortable with digital solutions, nurses who have been in-practice for decades may not be as comfortable using unfamiliar technologies.

Healthcare leaders must identify where nurses need the most support and provide continued professional development to ensure nurses at all levels are comfortable using digital health technologies. Hospitals, health systems and nursing organizations can provide solutions for nurses throughout their careers to enable technological proficiency and support critical thinking during patient care. These resources ensure nurses have access to the latest guidelines and evidence-based treatment pathways, empowering them to make more informed, confident decisions and driving better patient results.

At the same time, it is crucial for leaders to be thoughtful about the technologies they are considering deploying and to take the time to understand the benefits of any solution under consideration. A study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research found that the use of telehealth to manage certain diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension actually worsened nurses’ workloads and led to twice as many activities completed by nurses. To gauge the impact new technologies will have on nurses, administrators may want to consider issuing employee surveys or informally gathering feedback, which is also a great way to show nurses that their voices matter in choices being made by the organization.

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Closing Thoughts

 The last few years have shown us that nurses are invaluable to the healthcare industry, and it’s imperative that we provide them with tools for success throughout their entire career. Technology is going to continue to play a major role in healthcare. Healthcare leaders and educational institutions can use technology to their advantage, but they must provide current and future nurses with development opportunities to enhance their technology skills.

Brent Gordon
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