28 March 2023

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How nurses can use data to drive more personalised care

Louise Cave, speaker at our nursing conference on 12 May, shares her views on the role digital technology plays in the health service

Louise Cave

On 12 May 2023, St Christopher’s CARE is hosting a major nursing conference, Reviving and advancing palliative care through action and advocacy. Among the very strong line-up of speakers is Louise Cave, Florence Nightingale Digital Leadership Fellow, working within the NHS England Transformation directorate. When a teenage cancer patient objected to being woken for Louise to take his blood pressure, because his Apple watch had already told him it was fine, Louise knew she wanted to be a part of a digital transformation in nursing and now she’s on a mission to bring her nursing colleagues with her. We asked Louise to tell us why technology is the future and how nurses can embrace it to provide more patient-centred care.

What part does digital technology play in the health service?

“The NHS has a bad history with technology projects. They’ve invested heavily but the projects have too often flopped, and uptake has been poor. The overriding lesson that is now being learned is that one of the main reasons for their failure is that we haven’t involved clinicians in the change. There’s been the sense that the IT people have done it to the doctors and nurses. Now we understand that we need to have the clinicians on board, leading and collaborating on the products they need to help them improve the care they provide.

“I’ve been looking at how technology could and should be used by nurses and at how over the next five, 10 and 20 years digital technology will change the role of the nurse. We look at the traditional role of the nurse, by the bedside. In the NHS, we now have a system that is far bigger than anyone ever imagined and we need to work differently and embracing technology is a big part of the changes we need to make.

“Education will play a major role in this. Some of the nursing education curriculum dates back to the 1970s and 80s. We simply haven’t moved with the times. Nurses should be taught how to plan patient care and interpret data using digital technology. The longer we leave it, the more nurses we’re training with that skills gap, leaving them lacking in the confidence to use the new and available technology.

The nurses of tomorrow are going to have to be data analysts.

Does it mean that the science of nursing overrides the art?

“That doesn’t mean we reject the art of nursing. Using the patient centred practice model, the idea is that patients won’t have to tell their medical history to every clinician they come into contact with. They should only have to tell it once and that knowledge is then available to the whole team. This way we put power in the patients’ hands. Nurses can then use the data to ensure the patient receives care tailored to their needs and wishes. The best way to achieve a healthy population is to empower patients.

Was there a moment when your digital switch flicked on?

“I was working on a teenage cancer ward. I was looking after a 17-year-old patient. He was very challenging and tested the will of the team every day. I woke him up at 6 o’clock one morning to take his blood pressure. He resented being disturbed and told me it was pointless as his Apple watch told him his blood pressure was fine. He asked why we couldn’t use that data. I had no answer for him. That was a lightbulb moment that made me realise that healthcare needs to change.

How can digital technology help palliative nursing?

“Stereotypically people probably don’t see palliative care as a time for digital technology. Even if some organisations have introduced electronic records, they’re maybe not using them to their full potential. And palliative care traditionally places greater emphasis on the art rather than the science of nursing. The art of palliative nursing is beautiful and digital doesn’t have to take over. However, it certainly has a major role to play to support nurses. Things like ambient monitoring – helping nurses to keep track of their patients in much less invasive way, using a camera to take their temperature and heart rate for example. Looking more widely, it’ll enable us to understand the dying process better than before, to track and to trend and put data behind the anecdotal personal stories. It should also be able to support more people to stay at home for longer – if that’s their wish.

What measure are you hoping nurses will take from your presentation at the conference?

“We need nurses to be activists and advocates of the tech they want and need so they can provide the best care for their patients in whatever environment they are in. It can take a lot for a nurse to do this, but it’s where we need to go. We also need to give nurses the confidence when the computer says no to know when it is wrong and they can override it.

“I want to get nurses to think about the art of the possible. To think, if you could have technology to support you to do your job even better, to care for your patients better, what would that be? There are tech companies queuing up to design things we just need to empower nurses to think in that way. All they need to come up with is a problem and an idea. That way we can use technology to support their patients.”

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