Putting nursing in the picture

Putting nursing in the picture

As well as the needs of the doctor, HIC 99 is taking the opportunity to explore the relationship between information management and specific groups of the healthcare profession. Nursing is one area that will receive this attention. According to Associate Professor Evelyn Hovenga, from the School of Mathematics and Decision Sciences at Central Queensland University (CQU), it is well overdue.

"Information is used differently by nurses," said Prof Hovenga, who will be speaking at the HIC 99 conference. "Nurses form a bigger number of users and they are there all day at the hospital, so there is a great need to work out how they want information made available and managed."

Prof Hovenga's comments and the studies conducted by her students, some of whom are also presenting papers at HIC 99, reveal a niche of health practice that she believes has been overlooked by the move to introduce strategies to better manage information in healthcare.

"Nurses are not supported in learning about health informatics (HI) by their employer, who is at the same time pushing information management (IM) technology into their workplace. Staff have said to me that they are not given the time to learn about HI, so they learn on the job which is not always beneficial, as they have to care for patients at the same time," Prof Hovenga said.

This situation has led to increased apprehension among nurses to the prospect of IM in their workplace. Gender issues also persisted, as female nurses had in her experience displayed negative attitudes to new technology.

While Prof Hovenga said that these fears were unfounded, together they have formed a culture resistant to change. "We know that computers and mobile technology could help nursing practice, but it's hard to convince nurses of this," she said.


Part of this nursing culture is invested in maintaining the oral handover of patient care details from one nurse to another. Prof Hovenga said that many nurses have expressed concern that electronic records do not offer adequate opportunity for detailing the instructions for total patient care.

"If we think of nurses as information handlers, we can see the need for help, because the real issue is to preserve handover in documentation."

Prof Hovenga believed that the increasingly coordinated approach to delivering IM to the health sector, together with education, can address this situation. Although Australia does not yet have tertiary courses solely dedicated to nursing informatics, Prof Hovenga has started an introduction to health informatics subject at CQU.

"Fifty per cent of my students didn't want to do it because of this nursing culture, but they enjoy it now because it presents a new way of looking at the world," she said.

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