5 Tech Skills Every Nurse Should Have

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Technology skills have been useful to nurses for several decades, but now those skills have become mandatory.

In January 2014, federal requirements for “meaningful use” of electronic medical records (EMR) kicked in. Failure to comply will result in reduced reimbursement for Medicaid and Medicare from the federal government. Those requirements were announced in 2009, five years after President George W. Bush called for 100 percent electronic health records (EHR) throughout the United States by 2014.

That hasn’t happened, although the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) earmarked $19 billion for an electronic health information technology infrastructure, and provides incentives for EHR progress. It won’t be long until traditional paperwork is phased out.

Nursing has become so linked to technology that a hybrid career called nursing informatics is growing rapidly. Nurse informaticians frequently work as nurse educators and chief nursing officers, among other titles, to disseminate new knowledge into practice.

Nurses do not necessarily need as many tech skills as nursing informatics to succeed at their jobs, but some skills are required, from simply being able to perform basic computer functions to additional software aptitude, not only for inputting electronic records but also bar code technology and a wave of applications that will help nurses develop numerous other electronic skills.

Basic computer usage

Nurses need to know how to use a computer, but there’s a difference between simple computer literacy — the ability to open files and use email and retrieve basic information — and information literacy.

The Association of Colleges and Research Libraries defines information literacy as “a set of abilities allowing individuals to recognize when information is needed and to locate, evaluate and use that information appropriately.” That includes the ability to educate patients and family and evaluate information found on the Internet.

Electronic records

Nurses must be able to read charts and input patient information into an electronic system. This may involve electronic health records, electronic medical records, or clinical documentation. Nurses may also need to know how to operate computerized physician order entry and clinical information systems.

The switch from paper records to electronic records, or often a combination, has brought up new challenges for nurses, such as protecting patient privacy on electronic systems. A thorough understanding of electronic record-keeping is necessary to treat patients and protect them.

Software aptitude

Nurses need the technical skills to navigate courses in continuing education. Many skills to become a nurse are taught through software training programs in nursing schools and in a work environment. Hospitals and health care facilities frequently use custom training software, so a nurse must learn more than one program.

Bar code technology

Hospitals use bar code technology to track patients and medications. Nurses scan the bar codes on patient ID bracelets to ascertain medications and dosages needed. They must be able to use the technology to administer medications. Once a nurse scans a patient’s bracelet, the medication and dosage appear on a laptop. The nurse scans the medicine container, which enters the dosage into the system. If the wrong medication or dosage is put in, the system alerts the nurse to the error.

Bar code technology should decrease medical errors, although nurses will have to know enough to detect incorrect information.

Nursing apps

Knowledge of nursing apps is not a major job requirement yet, but apps are already useful to nurses working in hospitals. Apps can help nurses identify pills, look up medication information, access medical journals and see new clinical news.

Nursing apps include helpful tools like medical calculators. There are even apps that help nurses interpret data, such as the Instant ECG app. The app, which costs 99 cents and is available for iOS 3.0 or later, acts as an interpretation guide for electrocardiogram rhythms.

Specialization in informatics

Every nurse can learn technical skills at any career stage, but specialists are emerging. Nurses who love to teach can consider turning IT skills into a lucrative career path.

Universities across the country are taking note, and many now include informatics in their nursing curriculum.

According to a 2014 survey by himss.org, nursing informaticists are entering the field with increasing numbers of post-graduate degrees, including a 24 percent increase since 2011 in the number with a post-graduate degree in nursing informatics or other informatics.

The average salary ranged from $72,000 to more than $140,000, depending on workplace and region, according to the survey. Nurses with supervisory responsibilities and advanced degrees reported higher salaries.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t break out data on nursing informatics, its Occupational Outlook Handbook for medical and health services managers projects a 23 percent rate of growth for related positions through 2022.

edited by Colin Seymour

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