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Empowering nurses is key to enhancing impact of digital health solutions-The HSB Blog 5/17/22

Our Take:

Creating more digitally engaged nurses and digital nurse leadership is integral to optimizing the benefits of digital technologies and solutions in nursing practice. Digital health technologies and solutions have become an essential part of healthcare delivery and is widely debated to be the future of healthcare. Nursing is not left out with opportunities to explore the potential of utilizing technology or digital health solutions. The accelerated pace of adoption of disruptive digital health innovations demands that nurses remain at the forefront of digital innovations in patient care. Different countries all over the world are taking deliberate steps to elevate nursing leadership in the digital sphere. In its policy agenda the U.S. cannot be left behind.

Key Takeaways:

  • Despite the many benefits of digital health innovations in nursing practice, nurses have been reluctant to adopt technology because of inadequate support, complicated systems, and technological lapses.

  • As noted in one study “nurses provide about 80% of care and are described as a link between patients and processes.”

  • The top nursing challenges are nurse retention (61%), nurse recruitment (59%), nurse engagement (35%), and nurse leadership development (33%) per the 2017 Health Leaders Media Nursing Excellence Survey.

  • Lack of nurse leadership poses a major challenge to nurse engagement with digital technology.

The Problem:

Globally, there was a massive increase in nurse shortages and poor retention that worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic because of theincreased health risk and inadequate support. In a 2017 survey, respondents ranked nurse retention as the top nursing challenge, followed by nurse engagement and nurse leadership development. Interestingly, the response from the survey revealed that engagement and leadership development drive nurse retention more than money.

Digital health technologies and solutions have become increasingly adopted and integrated in healthcare with promises of transforming healthcare by reducing workloads, making processes simpler, and improving access and patients’ experience. It has benefits for improving nurse retention and overall performance with features that allow flexible scheduling and improved communication.

Despite the many benefits of digital health innovations in nursing practice, nurses have been reluctant to adopt technology because of inadequate support, complicated systems, and technological lapses. Nurses' concerns about technological lapses and outdated systems have validity because the resulting disruption of work processes endangers patients’ lives.

The Backdrop:

Digital technologies like wearables, telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and scheduling apps have become integral to healthcare service delivery and are projected to remain part of the future of healthcare. Nurses who are at the forefront of implementing these technologies have experienced difficulties in adapting to this new normal. A major constraint contributing to poor nurse engagement with digital technologies is inadequate support caused by gaps in nurse leadership in digital health innovation. .

While nurses are not averse to digital engagement, encouraging their active engagement in the technology development and implementation is fundamental for improved performance of these innovations. In addition, this appears to be an area in need of greater research focus. For example, as noted in “Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare: Implications for the Job Design of Healthcare Professionals”, most of the studies around AI and job design noted “the implications for job design …for doctors and patients but only seldomly for 1) nurses, 2) managers and 3) organizations” which the authors found “surprising as nurses provide about 80% of care and are described as a link between patients and processes.” In addition, while in many cases AI assistants are designed to help reduce workload, as the aforementioned study notes, “with the advent of digitalization and novel technologies, doctors and nurses must process much more information about patients and scientific publications, thereby both increasing and decreasing their job demands. Keeping up with such medical information, which is doubling every 5 years, is an example of an increased job demand.”


The accelerated digitalization of health services and systems has expanded healthcare leadership responsibilities to developing and managing digital health. Nurses’ participation in implementing digital transformation projects at an early stage makes them central to digital healthcare leadership. As a result, empowering and enabling nurses to engage with digital tools is crucial for several reasons. When nurses are involved in the design of digital solutions, it helps in factoring complexities and peculiarities of different sector needs. For instance, community nurses might face more hurdles to using technology, especially if the systems are outdated or in instances where communities lack access to basic technological infrastructures or poor internet connectivity. Furthermore, technologies that are not fit for purpose pose a major barrier to nurses’ engagement with technology. Nurse leadership in the digital health space could lead to useful feedback on improvements in technologies and systems that would better serve the nurses and improve patients’ outcome.

Moreover, enhanced communication between caregivers and caregivers and patients is another benefit. As noted above, nurses provide the majority of patient care and are an integral part of any design changes in the process of care for patients. Nurse leaders speak a language that other nurses understand and they are also better placed to address the concerns that they might have. For instance, concerns about reduced interactions with patients caused by uptake in technology can be addressed by flagging areas in which technology saves time or provides useful data for improved patient interactions. Implemented correctly, digital health solutions have the potential of alleviating many of the administrative demands of the nursing profession, however, nurse leaders need to be at the helm for sustainability and for better buy-in and adoption.

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