As the healthcare industry replaces paper processes with electronic records, staff will need to adapt and learn new skills. Charlotte Weaver explains

By staying on top of new technology, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers can help to realise the full potential of advances such as the electronic health records system. For this to happen, everyone working in the NHS must learn new skills in healthcare informatics. This means learning how to perform daily tasks within the system to ensure operational efficiency, as well as mastering more advanced analytical functions.

Creating a digitally competent healthcare workforce will not be easy, but with dedication and collaboration, it is definitely possible.

Embedding competencies

The core IT competencies required by healthcare professionals have already been identified and defined. Now they need to be incorporated into basic training and daily practice through accreditation standards and performance appraisals. Professional health education must be redesigned to embed information technology into curricula and lab simulations.

At the most basic level, staff need to know how to perform day-to-day tasks within the system to ensure operational and communication efficiencies.

For information seeking and critical thinking functions, higher-level IT competencies will be required. Clinical professionals and managers need advanced navigational skills to allow them to find information at a patient, group, unit or operational level, and they must be prepared to use IT systems for evaluation and analysis.

At a clinical care level, clinicians need to know how to access expert reference databases, use clinical decision supports to guide care decisions and evaluate care outcomes.

Care record success

Staff training is essential if the care records system is to be a success. Despite this, a Royal College of Nursing survey in 2007 revealed that two-thirds of nurses surveyed had not had any IT training in the six months before the survey and many did not even have easy access to computers. If this new electronic system is to work effectively, healthcare workers must be properly trained and have access to the necessary facilities and resources.

As the rollout of the national IT programme proceeds, the urgency of ensuring staff have basic IT skills is growing. Each trust that is converting to the new care records system must prepare its workforce.

Education and training should be designed to help improve performance and enhance care delivery. IT specialists and consultants should be on hand to provide support during implementation to make sure staff are able to cope with the new technologies.

As healthcare moves further into the digital age, the healthcare workforce will need to ensure that it maintains a high degree of knowledge and understanding of how healthcare technologies work and the benefits for patient care. Through collaboration, communication and above all, good training, a safe and effective uptake of new technologies can be achieved, ultimately improving healthcare delivery.