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NHS perspectives: the link between digital skills and wellbeing

By 7th November 2023No Comments

NHS frontline workers and non-clinical staff often associate digital technology with anxiety and stress. This comes from a place of not knowing what to do when things go wrong, negative experiences with using digital technology (like lacking support and not having enough time to get familiar with it), and low digital confidence.

How can NHS organisations alleviate these worries surrounding technology? And how can digital skills improve staff wellbeing and patient outcomes?

This blog explores the link between technology adoption and wellbeing, focusing on five specific NHS workforce needs:

1. The need to be heard

During our ‘Let’s talk’ webinar, Chris Kalko from NHS England shared that digitalisation within the NHS is a big task and one that can’t take place without input from people across the organisation.

“We must use our voices to shape our roles, workplaces, the NHS, and our communities, to improve the health and care of the nation.”

NHS England

He emphasised listening to the user, commenting that it’s too easy to make top-down decisions without getting an idea of what people really need and what they feel is important to them. Giving staff a voice to shape the tools they use in delivering patient services is more likely to achieve results.

Chris also stressed the importance of not imposing digitalisation on people.

“Everyone has their own pace. If you give people too much in too little time, it can be quite overwhelming,” he said. “The idea’s to let your people see for themselves what the technology can do and how it can make their lives easier.”

2. The need to solve problems

While most managers look for ways to use new digital technology to improve care, nearly half of those surveyed (47%) said they lacked knowledge about digital technology and its potential uses.

NHS staff work in an incredibly stressful and fast-paced environment. They don’t need the additional frustration of clunky technology and hard to use systems. When legacy infrastructure doesn’t talk to new software, staff have trouble accessing and using it effectively.

They want and need the technology to work in harmony with other systems they use, to exchange and access useful information. Healthcare staff will be more than willing to embrace technology if it’s intrinsically linked to solving a problem and meeting their needs.

When staff use technology to simplify essential daily tasks like managing shift patterns and organising virtual visits, they have more time to prioritise patient care – and that’s the real incentive for people to upskill themselves.

3. The need to use technology more often

80% agreed digital technologies could help them do their job better or more efficiently.

Some frontline staff who don’t use technology regularly say they’ve been unable to practise what they’ve been taught so they can’t embed their new digital skills. This isn’t quite the level of empowerment NHS organisations want their staff to feel.

On the flipside, those who’ve had a higher exposure to technology have much more positive associations about its importance in the healthcare sector. People working in multi-disciplinary teams, whose roles depend on communicating with different NHS professionals, say there’s a greater use of digital technology now than before the pandemic. Nurses and registered managers would like to see their workplaces use more digital technology for work planning and care management.

“Working in partnership with The Inform Team we carried out a training needs analysis to find out what training we needed and from there, implement a training package. Through the analysis, we asked things like; Have you heard of this feature? Are you comfortable with it? Do you need support using it? Through the Microsoft 365 training they’ve received, staff have gotten to grips with functionalities they weren’t aware of. Functions that would make things easier for them.”

Ged Connolly-Thompson
Head of Digital Development & Information Governance
NHS Derby and Derbyshire Integrated Care Board

NHS Derby and Derbyshire Integrated Care Board

There’s a clear desire to use digital technology day-to-day, so giving staff more opportunities to work with it for tasks like digitising patient records, managing shifts, and communicating with colleagues, will go a long way to helping overcome barriers to putting learning into practice.

4. The need to stay connected

The ability to improve productivity is holding healthcare staff back. This could be because they’ve not received the right training or are hesitant to adopt new digital tools due to work demands.

When NHS Trusts adopt Microsoft Teams, they give colleagues the ability to work and collaborate in a smart, safe, and effective way. It enables employees to work from home or on-site with equal efficacy, ensuring secure and reliable access to files and systems.

Staying connected using technology also contributes to wellbeing.

The capabilities of Teams make it great for continuing those team routines that are so important for building trust and working relationships. Staff can instantly message colleagues – whether that’s to quickly get an important piece of information, or just to catch up with a friend. Using Teams in this way helps colleagues feel more in touch with what’s going on, which is a major factor in protecting their wellbeing when working from different locations.

Logo for Microsoft Teams

5. The need to be recognised

Healthcare staff deserve to be rewarded and recognised for their hard work and dedication to providing high-quality patient care. If they’re advocating the use of digital technology to achieve this goal, they should also be acknowledged for that.

Digital champions gain skills, confidence, and competence to support patients and colleagues, promoting a culture of knowledge-sharing. Within their safe learning spaces, they encourage one another and spotlight those who are going above and beyond.

Taking a human-centric approach, training programmes should incorporate technical digital skills and ongoing support for all staff, especially those less comfortable with technology, with recognition given for every achievement.

Bridging the digital capability gap

It’s no mean feat to build confidence in using digital tools and increase digital literacy, but once the benefits for NHS colleagues, patients, and services are realised, the transformative potential is invaluable.

There’s a wide range of digital capability within the NHS workforce. While some individuals are digitally savvy and comfortable using technology, others struggle and need additional support to ease anxieties.

If we ask already stressed staff to work with digital tools they haven’t received adequate training in, it becomes another issue for them to manage. This leads to frustration, lack of adoption and for the organisation, a wasted technology investment.

Only 20% of NHS organisations are considered digitally mature, but NHS England’s on a mission to have digital foundations in place, including electronic records, by March 2025. Building digital skills for staff is one of their top priorities.

Need some expert advice with your technology adoption programme?

We collaborate with healthcare organisations to support their people with their learning + skills needs. Together we help drive positive behaviours with technology and unlock true collaboration across your workforce.

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