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Healthcare IT too complicated for the computer-illiterate?

The generation gap’s role in nursing and informatics

Generation gap with nurses and technologyWhile hospitals race to meet healthcare reform incentives with EMR solutions, nurses and other staff struggle to keep up with the IT learning curve. Some staff are simply under-trained on the new systems, but a recent article exploring the generation gap among nurses might explain why some fall behind more than others – computer skills vary greatly among different age cohorts. This isn’t to say all younger generation nurses are computer savvy and older staff are not, but in general there is a strong correlation between age and computer skills. What can be done to bridge this gap? Is it left up to the hospital to train their staff better?

IT vendors can (and should) build most of the bridge

What IS the best solution to bridge the generation gap? Should hospitals offer more training for staff? Short answer: Yes, a little. But is that all that can be done? No; healthcare IT vendors should take the lead in meeting users at their lowest levels of computer literacy. This is especially true in an understaffed nursing environment where tech-related stress can result in costly errors. Hospitals shouldn’t just go out and hire a bunch of computer illiterate staff, but it does mean they can and should hire a nurse for his/her nursing skills, and hire a pharmacist for his/her pharmacy know-how. This is what they excel in, and these patient care-related skills should always trump computer savviness. Nurses don’t have time to learn complicated software.

Hospitals can be more selective about their healthcare IT vendors

Hospitals should invest in IT systems which all staff can comfortably use with little or no training, aka a system that is “user-friendly.” Careful though, spoiler alert: ALL SOFTWARE VENDORS CLAIM THEIR SOLUTION IS USER-FRIENDLY. So how can you tell which ones are user-friendly and which are not? Easy. Just make sure to do the following:

  • Demo the software and ask what the typical user’s experience will look like, from logging in to finding the information he/she needs.
  • Conduct a small “user test” to find out. You don’t want any surprises after its been fully implemented. Just gather a couple staff members to see how easy it is to use the software with little or no training. If a non-computer savvy nurse has too much trouble, it’s a no-go.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Our goal at PolicyStat is to meet users at the lowest level of computer savviness in any given hospital. We do this through constant testing and keeping it simple for end-users. To go along with our favorite saying by Leonardo Da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

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