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Feel the fear and click anyway

Technology plays an important part in the delivery of high-quality patient care. Barbara Stuttle explains how computers benefit both patients and professionals, and argues that it is never too late to learn

Barbara Stuttle cbe
Executive Nurse
South West Essex PCT National Clinical Lead Nursing
NHS Connecting for Health

Feeling in control of your circumstances and not worrying about the unexpected or unlikely, is good for your health. As a nurse I constantly see how well patients respond when they understand their condition and are actively involved in their treatment. Technology can play an important part in making this happen.

Our experience with mobile technology, which is being piloted by community nurses, shows what a difference it can make. A nurse can show records to a patient with diabetes or chronic respiratory disease and demonstrate their condition and treatment. They can see in pictures how well they are responding to treatment. Nurses involved in these pilots have told us this is a highly effective way of gaining a patient's understanding. And it has a direct knock-on effect in terms of patients' willingness to follow treatment plans.

Because they feel in control, they take control. Consequently their health is likely to improve, which has big implications for avoiding emergency care in hospital. Patients don't want to be in an endless cycle of hospital admission and community care. This is also a very costly way of providing healthcare for people.

One of the barriers to exploiting information technology to improve healthcare can be nurses' reluctance to get involved. Newly trained nurses tend to come to the profession with a knowledge and expertise in using the internet and computers generally. However, for some of us from earlier generations, we can be frightened by the new technology and steer away from using it.

This is not a viable position - Luddism won't work. Technology is here to stay and is having dramatic effects on everyone's lives in many ways. Nurses need to be at the forefront of influencing how it is used in healthcare teams. They can provide a role model for patients who also need encouraging to overcome anxieties about the new gadgets.
I recommend getting hold of one of the new, lightweight laptops and playing around with it. Build your confidence and be prepared to learn new tricks from younger colleagues, or even children who are likely to be brilliantly adept with computers. My own family has helped me a lot with developing my expertise and I am constantly amazed at what can be achieved by technology.

We are living in a world which is going through an accelerating rate of change, meaning we are able to do things we would have never imagined possible 20 years ago. But some things don't change. Someone once said to me that if you cut me open then, like a stick of rock, I'd be nurse all the way through. The machines won't replace caring or nursing, but they will give us a wealth of information to help us work better at supporting people in maintaining their independence. The bottom line is making things better for patients.
I'd like to see nurses at the forefront of exploring how technology can do exactly that!