Virtual approaches to healthcare at-scale are still relatively new for the nursing profession. Equipping the modern nursing workforce for the realities it faces using new technologies to enhance access requires new thinking around education.
Virtual consultations and virtual wards have spread rapidly in the NHS since the COVID-19 pandemic. They have become a progressively important means to providing access to increasingly in-demand services.
As the NHS continues to deal with growing backlogs and other strains on its services, this is about enabling healthcare professionals to monitor and oversee more patients, while also allowing individuals to best maintain their independence.
Equipping the workforce
As an experienced Chief Nurse, a key question for me is how we ensure the next generation of nurses is digitally ready.
Nursing education needs to prepare nurses for the demands and challenges in the future. Digital skills are fundamental for frontline nurses to deliver safe and effective care.
We need to produce modules for nurses in undergraduate courses that prepare them for the technology they will use.
We need to give nurses the confidence to challenge – and to work with – their technology vendors to provide the right solutions. We need to encourage creativity in this sector.
Clinicians at the frontline need to work with technology providers to co-create and design the future of care.
How we assess and care for people virtually brings a whole new set of challenges.
Clinicians may need to adapt their questioning; less proximity may require more skills. Caring for the person holistically should not be lost.
Nurses are trained to observe changes in a person’s recovery – or deterioration – based on physical interaction and often have therapeutic relationships developed in proximity.
The question of how we overcome lessened social interaction and the face-to-face contact is a significant one.
How do nurses pick up on cues from patients in a virtual or remote environment? How do we overcome a potentially lessened ability to physically look and listen in virtual care environments that can be more formal? These are questions we need to address.
Modernising our approach to teaching
To modernise teaching to respond to these challenges, there are four core areas that need to be considered in undergraduate education and by healthcare providers.
We need to increase knowledge of technology. There is an ever-evolving health technology market of which nurses need to have an awareness.
We need to enhance the skills of students for digital and technology readiness. This means training and educating with different digital technologies, and allowing students to practice with hardware and software, so they can gain confidence.
Nurses and students need to practice augmenting their skills. We need to provide the opportunity for nurses to combine technology with their knowledge and practice.
In the case of virtual consultations, this might mean practising remote monitoring and feedback or monitoring long-term conditions virtually.
Importantly, we need to encourage curiosity for innovation – creating a culture where nurses are excited to review technologies of the future and understand the application of technologies within healthcare.