The nursing profession used to operate according to certain stereotypes: predominantly female, for example, and diminutive, the Robin to the doctor’s Batman. There were broader glass ceiling and gender discussions around the idea of nurse roles vs. doctor roles in most of the first world from the 1940s until roughly the last decade. Technology brings new opportunities and new tools for nurses to better serve patients and to change the ways that they interact with their colleagues in medicine, pharmacy, and other health disciplines.

Times have changed for the nursing profession as well as for the abilities you need to thrive within it – and the types of work you interact with every day. “Every nurse is touched by technology” says Patti Brennan, a nurse who will soon lead the US National Library of Medicine, “and every nurse has the capacity to use technology in the service of patient care”.

“Nursing is a dependable profession that is very recession-proof,” says Brittney Wilson, a nurse and HIC 2016 keynote speaker out of the Atlanta area in the United States.

I often joke that even in a zombie apocalypse, nurses will be the last people to lose their job.

As digital tools have proliferated in the workplace, there’s also been an expectation around patient care that it will be delivered in a more digitally-inclined way. While this hasn’t been completely embraced yet (as we’ll discuss in one second), it’s created even more opportunities for ‘digital native’ nurses with a bit of a nerdy streak – Wilson calls her blog The Nerdy Nurse, for example – because the demand for digital tools in patient care is there.

The supply might not be yet, though. In the United States, it’s higher: 84% of hospitals have EHRs, or electronic health records. (Some others have put this figure closer to 69% as of late 2014.) While global EHR adoption rates are continuing to grow, they still vary by region. This is typically due to a combination of available resources, government contracts and a host of other factors around partnerships in the space.

Australia has had some success with EHR adoption (also called EMR adoption), but it’s facing the same problem as many developed countries: the amount of information in the pockets of the patients is potentially exceeding the amount available to the health care professionals. 89% of Australians own a smartphone, for example, but no matter what statistic you believe regarding the exact EHR/EMR adoption rate in Oz, it’s not that high.

Slower rates of EHR adoption in the first world are puzzling at one level, because health care professionals seem to like them. Consider one recent study done in the United States, which noted:

  • 94% of providers report that their EHR makes records readily available at point of care.
  • 88% report that their EHR produces clinical benefits for the practice.
  • 75% of providers report that their EHR allows them to deliver better patient care.

This is where the healthcare community (broadly) and nurses (more specific) come in. It’s up to them – both established professionals and those entering the field – to advocate for greater EHR/EMR adoption, which will benefit both their careers and the health of their patients.

This is where the HIC conference comes in.

“HIC has the ability to educate healthcare professionals with the tools and knowledge they need to have technology embraced and used to its full advantage,” notes Wilson.

The goal of HIC from the beginning has been to showcase the true value of technology in patient care and promote tech advocacy in all healthcare settings. It’s an old cliche that ‘every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,’ but it’s true. (All cliches begin from a kernel of truth.) In healthcare contexts, usually the biggest change undertakings need to begin with education and understanding. Then, the practitioners – in this case nurses and doctors – can emerge as leaders to push forward the rest of the work that needs to be.

“HIC is great for driving understanding of what’s happening in digital health,” adds Wilson. “That’s why it’s a value-add for everyone who attends.”