The importance of digital literacy in nursing

This blog post is written by Teopista Ssemakula who is a Senior Practice Development Nurse and recently completed my module EDM122. Her essay on the importance of digital literacy in nursing is licensed under CC-BY. She writes……

This essay is about the importance of digital literacies within Nursing, and I shall be
focusing on information, data and media literacy aspects of digital literacy.
Stephenson, (2017) highlighted in a national publication that digital skills are
essential to delivering the best contemporary nursing care, as this enhances
collaboration between nurses and patients, and promotes patient safety, reduces
duplication in addition to preventing mistakes. In my role as a Senior Practice
Development Nurse, it is crucial to have a high level of digital literacy in order to
effectively care for patients and support the healthcare team. According to Glister
(1997), one has to understand and have the ability to use digitised information. Plus,
Secker, (2017) asserts that, digital literacy has gained widespread attention in the
wider society: For instance in education, digital literacy encompasses more than a
functional concept based on technical skills to a more critical approach. This is seen
also within the healthcare sector, due to the new and emerging roles (Stephenson,
As defined by Health Education England (HEE, 2017), digital literacy is, “the ability to
live, learn, work, participate and thrive within a digital society”. This relates to all
nurses and those aspiring to become nurses. Terry et al (2019), states that studies
regarding digital literacy are under reported in Nursing literature. Previous studies
have identified that digital literacy levels impact staff engagement with information
systems, with poor computer skills and low computer experience identified to
influence attitudes towards information systems and information and communication
technology (Kuek and Hakkennes, 2020). Making it to be one of the main barriers for
adopting Electronic Healthcare Records argues (Huryk, 2010), and given the
increasing use of technology in healthcare, it is important for nursing staff to be
digitally literate (Healthcare Business Technology, 2016).
Within the Health Education England (HEE, 2018) framework, digital literacy is
important for nurses in order to effectively navigate and utilise electronic medical
records, participate in online applications, and stay current on research and best
practices. It is also essential for effective communication, collaboration, and
participation, in the development and implementation of healthcare policies and
practices, as well as teaching, learning, and self-development, plus information, data
and media literacies. All of which make up the different aspects of digital literacy in
this framework.
Historically, Nurses, used books and journals for evidence-based research, but now
search engines have made it easier to access such information (Pravikoff, 2006).
There is currently an increasing number of people who have access to healthcare
information online, so nurses are obligated to empower patients with knowledge of
how to evaluate the quality of that information (Theron et al, 2017), but how can this
be if they are not digitally literate, or not trained or supported?
Therefore, one has to have the ability to access online tools to search for evidence
for best practice, and knowledge of accessing the most reliable sources (Terry et al,
HEE, (2017) stresses that it matters to have a workforce that is entirely capable,
competent and confident in digital literacy within the workplace. Hence, the need to
develop a digitally literate health and care workforce.
As such, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) included digital literacy within the
2018 Standards for Pre-Registration Nursing Programmes and Standards of
Proficiency for Registered Nurses (NMC, 2018). This not only facilitates engagement
with effective decision-making, problem solving and research, but also enables
nurses to take responsibility for continued learning in areas of personal or
professional interest as well as facilitating evidence-based practice (Terry et al,
2019). According to Pravikoff (2006), developing and maintaining digital literacy is a
lifelong professional obligation which is as imperative as evidence-based practice.
Moreover, a digitally literate person can use technology strategically to find and
evaluate information, connect and collaborate with others, produce and share
original content, and use the Internet and technology tools to achieve many
academic, professional and personal goals’ (Grech, 2014, p.79, cited by Terry et al,
However, frustration and lack of confidence is seen among nurses trying to grasp
unfamiliar technology (Stephenson, 2017), given that healthcare has always been
slow in adoption of new digital tools and technologies due to inadequate technology
and information technology systems (Pearce, 2017).
Furthermore, the lack of time allocated for nurses to complete their online g
adds to the barriers, not to mention policy restrictions in some areas where nurses
are not allowed to use personal smartphones to complete their learning, plus issues
with the WI-FI which at times fails or cannot be accessed (Stephenson, 2017).
It has been identified to date that investment in training, assessment of the user’s
skill level, and targeted learning should all be encouraged, as well as the provision of
different modes of instruction to meet the user’s needs (Kuek and Hakkennes, 2020).
The guidance produced by the Royal College of Nursing and Health Education
England aims to inform policies directed at improving the digital capabilities of all
healthcare staff (RCN and HEE, 2017).
In terms of training new staff, which is a major part of my role, I have learnt not to
assume that everyone is good at information technology. It has become a popular
concept in certain areas of policy and practice (Helsper and Eynon, 2010) to follow the
concept of the digital native (Prensky, 2001), which is regarded as a cause of the wide
shifts in how we engage with technology. In spite of this, many see the ‘residents and visitors’ (White and Le Cornu, 2011) typology as a more useful way of observing
people’s interaction with online spaces.
In my own context as a Practice Development Nurse, it is important to stay up-to-date on the latest research and best practices in my field. I have found digital literacy
to be critical in finding and accessing relevant information online as well as using it to
improve my practice whilst educating others (Nwagwu and Oshiname, 2009). An
example is seen recently when I was asked to teach a session on how to safely
transfer patients from the ward to theatres and from the recovery room back to the
ward, to our surgical rotational nurses. Having prior knowledge about what happens,
I still had to utilise not only our local policies, but also accessed online evidence based literature as reference to support our current practices, including having the
capability in using PowerPoint presentation. Digital literacy is therefore an essential
skill in today’s digital age, as technology plays a significant role in almost every
aspect of our lives.
Just like other healthcare organisations, our hospital has adopted Electronic Medical
Record systems to store and manage patient information. An example is the move
away from the use of paper drug charts and instead staff are trained to use
electronic drug charts for medicines management via WeConnect, which is the
Trust’s approved digital program (Barts Health, 2023). Moreover, as a Practice
Development Nurse, you are responsible for training staff in nursing electronic
documentation, entering and retrieving data, in order to track patient progress and communicate with other healthcare professionals.
All new starters are supported by our practice development team in accessing
Information and Communication Technology portals such as Cerner Millenium, the
Trust’s core information technology system, so that they can be trained on how they
will document patient processes intraoperatively via Surginet (Barts Health, 2023).
Digital literacy is therefore, essential for navigating and utilising these systems
efficiently and effectively (Healthcare Business Technology, 2016).
The COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in the use of digital tools.
Meetings or study days previously held face to face such as our accredited In-House
Nurse Anaesthetic module or Lead mentor meetings with universities, had to be and
many still hold online, via Zoom Application (Serhan, 2020, Mouton, 2023) or
Microsoft Teams (Poston et al, 2020). As a Practice Development Nurse, you may
be responsible for assisting with facilitating or conducting these sessions, which
requires a strong understanding of how to use these technologies.
It should therefore be noted that information, data, and media literacies are not only
important aspects of the HEE framework within nursing as a whole (HEE, 2018) but
are strongly relevant to my practice. These skills allow me and other nurses to
effectively find, evaluate, and use information and data to support our practice and
make informed decisions (HEE, 2018).
Information literacy: Nurses must be able to effectively locate and access relevant
information in order to stay up-to-date on the latest research and best practices in
their field (Nwagwu and Oshiname, 2009, Wilson, 2019). This includes being able to
use search engines such as PubMed, databases such as CINAHL Plus, and other
online resources to find information and evaluate its quality and relevance. In my
role, I support staff and students to develop the skills to interpret, analyse, and
present digital information in diverse contexts for academic and professional
purposes whilst observing copyright rules in line with the (Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988), and open alternatives, such as Creative Commons (Creative
Commons, 2022). Thereby, referencing digital works appropriately in different
Data literacy: Nurses often work with large amounts of data, such as patient records and audit results.
A nurse’s ability to collect, analyse, and interpret patient data is crucial in order to
make an informed decision regarding patient care (Glassman, 2017). As a Practice
Development Nurse, you ought to have the capability for collating, managing,
accessing, analysing, and reporting on digital data in spreadsheets, databases, and
other formats (JISC, 2023). Securing personal data is an important practice. That is,
having an understanding of how data is used in professional and public life; being
familiar with legal, ethical, and security guidelines including understanding how
algorithms work and how data may be collected and used (JISC, 2023).
Media literacy: Nurses also need to be able to effectively use and evaluate various
forms of media, including video, audio, and written materials (RCN, 2023).
Communication with patients and colleagues using these media, as well as
evaluating their accuracy and reliability, are all part of the job (HEE, 2018). One
needs the ability to critically receive and respond to messages in text, graphics,
video, animation, and audio, and to curate, edit, and repurpose media while giving
due credit to its original creators as well as critically evaluating the purpose and
provenance of media messages (JISC, 2023). Furthermore, having a broad
understanding of digital media as a social, political, and educational tool, and the
technical aspects of digital media production is important (JISC, 2023).
In conclusion, despite the minimal research conducted regarding the digital literacy
of healthcare staff, with studies demonstrating poor levels of digital literacy among
the staff (Kuek and Hakkennes, 2020), it is imperative that staff are trained and
supported especially in the area of learning and acquiring skills in information, data
and media literacy aspects of digital literacy including all other aspects of digital
literacy prior mentioned within the (HEE 2018) framework. I noticed that our current
NMAHP educational newsletter in our hospital, sign posts links for staff to utilise and
develop their digital literacy skills (Barts Health, 2023): Such support in gaining free
access to such links is advantageous for nurses especially when these skills are
gained. In that nurses should then have the confidence to engage in innovative
practices, plus effectively care for patients and support the healthcare team in
today’s digital age (Glassman, 2017). Attending this module has helped me better
understand the need and importance of digital literacy and how this can be
embedded in one’s personal and continuous professional development.
For instance, this will be my first time to post on a blog platform both personally and
professionally, meeting a goal I had set from one of my previous modules
Professional and Personal Development Planning Module. Reflectively, I can see
that I now understand the theory and digital skills used or we needed in the work I
did earlier in producing an infographic poster during the module Student Support and
Personal Tutoring. My video creation skills have so enhanced and going forward, I
shall be able to use this for my teaching role, but also support staff and students who
might be novices in that area.
As per the required assessment criteria, this essay shall be posted and openly
published on the EDM122 Blog platform under the Commons Creative Licence.
This will grant copyright permission for creative and academic work; whist ensuring
proper attribution; where others are allowed to copy, distribute, and make use of this
work. Out of the licences, I have chosen to use CC BY which ensures that the
original work is credited, allows commercial use and allows modifications and
adaptations as well as changing the licence as per one’s adaptations.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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