Nurses transforming digital health: From idea to action

By Margaret Dempsey, RN, APNA Digital Health Project Officer 

Source: APNA Primary Times Winter 2023 (Volume 23 Issue 1)


APNA recently identified that greater knowledge of digital health policy, services and tools in primary health care (PHC) would help to increase workforce efficiency and improve patient outcomes. In 2020, we recruited nurses with an interest in digital health technologies to educate and transform the practice of their peers and other health-care professionals. We call these nurses, APNA Nurse Transformers! 

Nurses are the largest group of health-care professionals working in PHC settings in Australia.1 Prioritising the use of digital health technologies to improve service delivery and health outcomes is a key focus for PHC, and PHC nurses are key contributors to a digitally competent health system. However, in APNA’s 2019 Workforce Survey, many nurses noted that a lack of access to computers had a major impact on their clinical practice.2 APNA decided to do something about this problem and sought to learn more about utilising the Australian Digital Health Agency’s My Health Record system,3 electronic prescriptions and telehealth services routinely within PHC settings so that we could pass on this knowledge to PHC nurses. 

When APNA asked PHC nurses how they learn about new digital health tools and technologies, their top three responses were ‘peer learning’, ‘within the clinical setting’ and ‘through more formal online education platforms’.4 APNA identified that PHC nurses are willing to use new digital technologies and that they want to learn more about digital tools to provide better care. They also want to teach others about using digital technologies; however, they need support to make all of this happen.4 

In 2020, APNA’s Nursing in Primary Health Care project team recruited a group of 18 ‘Nurse Transformers’ to become advocates and enablers, and to educate and empower other nurses and health professionals to increase confidence using digital health technologies in routine practice. These Nurse Transformers were recruited from across the country, including Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. 

To begin, APNA provided the Nurse Transformers with professional training opportunities to increase their skills, knowledge and confidence. The Nurse Transformers attended a masterclass event that addressed communication skills, different adult learning styles, and how to effectively engage an audience. This empowered them to share their digital health learnings with their peers, other health professionals and their care recipients. The Nurse Transformers also participated in online training courses provided by the Australian Digital Health Agency on the My Health Record system3 and digital health security processes.5 

The second step was to create communication channels for nurses to share experiences, develop ideas and increase knowledge relating to the use of digital health systems. APNA established the Digital Health Community of Practice online platform (see below for more information). Nurse Transformers also participated in monthly networking meetings and APNA’s Nursing Australia podcasts, an accessible avenue for keeping nurses updated with the latest digital health news and information. 

Third, APNA raised the voice of PHC nurses: The Nurse Transformers participated in professional advisory group consultations hosted by the Australian Institute of Digital Health and attended several national digital health events. They also contributed to the development of resources to support the National Nursing and Midwifery Digital Health Capability Framework – a career-enabling framework recognising the unique digital health capabilities of nurses and midwives.6 This framework outlines the core skills, knowledge and behaviours required for professional digital health practice across five domains: 

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  • Digital Professionalism: Professional standards are maintained in the digital environment 
  • Leadership and Advocacy: Digital health leadership and advocacy supported by clear policy 
  • Data and Information Quality: Data quality must be present 
  • Information-Enabled Care: Care must be supported by rigorous data analysis and critical appraisal 
  • Technology: Technology needs to be understood and used appropriately.

The framework is intended to enable and inform nurses and midwives in contemporary practice. It’s a guide for individuals, organisations, and educators to help support professional development and planning and to identify areas where knowledge gaps exist. 

Nurses seek practical solutions, and we know that nurses learn best from their peers within the clinical setting, so the Nurse Transformers applied this knowledge to use peer-to-peer learning to rapidly increase uptake and adoption of digital health behaviours. Several in-service sessions were conducted in workplaces around the country and the Nurse Transformers initiated opportunistic educational activities, including live demonstrations of electronic prescription functionality to patients and GPs. They held discussions with patients about registering with their preferred pharmacy to receive and manage electronic prescriptions and assisted health-care professionals to access immunisation and other key information located in My Health Record3 (this was a welcome functionality during the pandemic as patients struggled to keep track of COVID-19 vaccination doses and dates). Nurse Transformers also accessed their broader existing professional networks to promote the use of digital technologies. 

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Nurses love to learn, and they also love to teach others. The Nurse Transformers project concluded in 2022; however, many of the Nurse Transformers continue their involvement with APNA's digital health initiatives, education and consultation. For example, they regularly contribute to APNA’s Nurse DIGEST webinars,7 an educational series of ‘bite-sized’ webinars (30 minutes) hosted in collaboration with the Australian Digital Health Agency. They often provide the ‘icing on the cake’ at these webinars by sharing practical experiences and learnings related to implementing digital technologies into everyday practice. 

APNA continues to drive the growth of nurse capabilities and confidence to influence a constantly evolving national digital health system. We are strengthening the PHC workforce to build a digitally competent and connected health environment as we harness the use of digital technologies and coordinated systems for safe, effective care for people.  

 

Join APNA’s Digital Health Community of Practice 

APNA’s free Digital Health Community of Practice online platform provides an accessible environment for nurses and others who work in PHC (including non-APNA members) to increase their knowledge relating to the use of digital health systems and processes. Keep the conversation going by scanning this QR code to join APNA’s Digital Health Community of Practice. 

 


References 

1 Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care (DHAC), Nurses and midwives in Australia, DHAC website, 6 February 2023, accessed 27 March 2023. https://www.health.gov.au/ 

2 APNA, 2019 APNA Workforce Survey summary, APNA website, 2020, accessed 27 March 2023. https://www.apna.asn.au/profession/apna-workforce-survey  
(Available to APNA members only) 

3 Australian Digital Health Agency (The Agency), My Health Record: information for healthcare providers and organisations, The Agency website, accessed 27 March 2023. https://www.digitalhealth.gov.au 

4 APNA, 2021 APNA Workforce Survey summary, APNA website, 2022, accessed 27 March 2023. https://www.apna.asn.au/profession/apna-workforce-survey (Available to APNA members only) 

5 Australian Digital Health Agency (The Agency), Training and support: cyber security, The Agency website, accessed 27 March 2023. 
https://www.digitalhealth.gov.au 

6 Australian Digital Health Agency (The Agency), National nursing and midwifery digital health capability framework, The Agency website, accessed 27 March 2023. https://www.digitalhealth.gov.au 

7 APNA, Nurse DIGEST webinar series, APNA website, accessed 27 March 2023. https://www.apna.asn.au/hub/digital-health/nurse-digest-webinar-series 

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.


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