6 basic rules to increase digital skills among healthcare professionals

8 February 2022

Health care is catching up digitally compared to other industries. From the perspective of the doctor, nurse, or administrative staff, this means learning many new IT system functionalities quickly. On top of that, you have to add ongoing changes in the software resulting from new administrative regulations.

What’s more, medical staff often work in different medical facilities with different software. Workers have different initial digital skills. Technology itself is also changing: organizations are moving to cloud solutions; mobile devices are replacing desktop computers; documentation is increasingly recorded by voice; clinical decision support systems are imposing new working procedures; system updates require new knowledge.

How to manage this, bearing in mind that digital skills affect the quality of EDM, the accuracy of billing, and thus the financial situation, patient safety, and the cyber security of the facility?

Whether healthcare workers can adapt to the rapidly changing environment depends on a well-planned programme of continuous competence development. This consists of six pillars:

  1. Defining the measurable skill rates
  2. Communication of objectives and a timetable for digitalization
  3. Planning of training adapted to different groups
  4. Systematic improvement of digital competences
  5. Assessing digital skills
  6. ... and improving them.

How to measure skills?

The first point may be crucial. At this stage, it is necessary to separate soft skills, such as the ease of using a computer, the speed of entering data into the system, or the ability to facilitate one’s own work by appropriate settings of IT system options. These elements should be subject to observation and be part of systematic competence improvement but are not baseline. Measuring the speed of entering patient data into the system would probably be the worst idea, leading only to harmful psychological pressure.

The elements that determine vital indicators should be prioritized: patient safety, financial situation, and quality of services. Systematic reviews of the quality of the data entered, and audits can be a measure.

Managing digital transformation

A strategic element is to inform the staff why a new system is being introduced, and even better, to involve them in the change process so that they understand better the expected outcomes of innovation. Improving the coordination of treatment or the financial situation are more convincing arguments than generally formulated “digitalization.”

Within the framework of “onboarding” new employees, the starting point is a questionnaire to determine the baseline skills. As a result, different user groups can be identified, and an appropriate training cycle can be tailored. Improving digital skills and, thus, innovation should become part of the organizational culture.

Training but also individual advice

The introduction of any new system functionality should be followed by know-how – training on test data, well-prepared documentation. The training must include various toolboxes, from general group workshops conducted by the software manufacturer to individual meetings or online webinars for self-learning at any time. In case of urgent questions, in order not to impede work, the employee must be able to quickly contact an expert through a chat with the IT department or a conversation with a mentor appointed on behalf of the manufacturer / IT company.

A series of training sessions on a new system is just the beginning. Every organization needs a strategy for continuous competence improvement. In large organizations, such as hospitals, it is best to appoint a leader in each department who is fluent in the IT infrastructure and, based on observation of the employees’ work, makes suggestions to the management for improving competencies. This type of coach is closest to the employee and can respond to urgent questions on an ongoing basis.

Digital skills should be measured systematically – not to control/punish employees but to develop their competencies to facilitate their daily duties. Everyone will agree that the seamless operation of an IT system has a positive impact on job satisfaction. A lack of digital skills, on the other hand, can be not only frustrating but also dangerous, leading to professional burnout.

The bare minimum of skills measurement includes cyber security audits conducted by the IT department. For example, does the employee open suspicious emails and click on the links they contain? Do they log off the system during breaks?

IT skills define satisfaction from IT

In recent years, we have seen significant progress in the ergonomics of IT systems. Manufacturers are constantly adjusting them to the user’s expectations, introducing new interfaces, making versions of systems available for convenient operation on mobile devices.

However, the value and benefits of any IT system depend primarily on the employees’ knowledge of how to use it. So it is worth building a coherent strategy for improving skills. Information about IT systems, modules, new functions need to be structured, made available on-demand on the local network in various formats – from printed manuals to instructional videos so that everyone can learn at their own pace, in the way they prefer.

The responsibility for the comfort of working with the IT system is shared between the medical facility and the software provider. Therefore, purchasing software is not just a transaction but ideally involves establishing a close relationship with the supplier. For example, the IT company will benefit from suggestions made by frontline employees and will be able to incorporate them into future software versions. In turn, the organization gains influence on the shape of the system.

And finally, the essential element – continuous learning. A new tomograph or computer usually requires a one-time training session. New functions are introduced to the software on an ongoing basis. Many of them are not used at all but could significantly improve the quality of work. This also applies to some options available in the systems – their appropriate configuration can save a few seconds of data recording, which translates into dozens of minutes a day.

An organization that cares about improving digital skills also maximizes the benefits of its software investments, including the most valuable of resources – its employees.