Times are a-changing, and the world is becoming increasingly digitised. Long gone are the days of handwritten clinical notes (though some practices may still be clinging to this form of recording). Though there can be some advantages of paper notes, job sheets, appointment books, and the like, embracing technology can benefit both your practice and your patients.
Digital Literacy in Healthcare
Defined as the ability to “make use of technologies to participate in and contribute to modern social, cultural, political, and economic life”, research around digital literacy amongst healthcare workers in Australia is still in its relative infancy.1
Nonetheless, existing literature tells us that the digitisation of information has the potential to improve both the quality and sustainability of healthcare, including access to care, preventative care, the care process, patient satisfaction, and efficiency.1 Low staff engagement with information systems and technology has been identified as having a negative impact on patient care in regard to safety and quality.1
Past studies on healthcare staff attitudes toward technology and information systems have yielded varying results. Healthcare practitioners and support staff in favour of utilising technology reported that it helped them improve patient care, avoid duplication, improve access and efficiency, and assist with rapid decision-making. Conversely, other healthcare professionals have reported an aversion to adopting digital information systems, finding it time-consuming and cumbersome to use.1
Technology literacy means more than just the ability to operate the retinal camera to get an excellent fundus photo. Even knowing how to type on a keyboard and work a computer mouse, print out a document, and access social media apps are all forms of technology literacy.
Areas of Technology Literacy
Digital or technology literacy can be considered from a few different aspects when it comes to optometry practice. These areas are relevant to clinicians and support staff, such as optical dispensers or receptionists.
The competent use of electronic health records, such as , Sunix or Optomate, is vital for all staff in the practice. Not only do electronic health records enable more efficient communication throughout the clinic (for example, viewing a patient’s notes from different devices simultaneously), but it also has been shown to ultimately result in better patient outcomes.1,2
In addition to electronic health records, other software programs and online platforms are often commonly used when managing a healthcare practice. These can include:
- Microsoft Office programs, including Word and Excel
- Email providers
- Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram
- And in the emerging age of telemedicine, online video chat platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Zoom
Cybersecurity has become a buzzword with the recent cyberattacks on prominent companies such as Medibank and Latitude Financial Services. Though independent optometry practices are much less likely to be the target of cybercrime, it’s still of paramount importance for your staff to be aware of how digital patient data can be compromised and to be able to take steps to prevent it from occurring. One study noted that staff with a low level of digital literacy are more likely to put their workplace at risk of cybersecurity breaches.3 All employees within the clinic with access to digital patient information should have an understanding of cybersecurity best practices.
The ability to adapt to new technology and all the advantages it brings tends to be found among those with an existing level of digital literacy.1,2 Healthcare professionals expressing negative sentiments towards information systems due to the inconvenience or burdensome nature of these technologies1 may view it differently if given the opportunity to improve their overall technology literacy.
Skill and competency in utilising the various technologies specific to the optometric examination is, of course, a non-negotiable. Competent and efficient use of equipment such as OCT, fundus photography, tonometry, and even digital VA charts is paramount to optimal patient care and satisfaction. Being able to embrace and adapt to advances in diagnostic and therapeutic technology can only have positive impacts on your ability to provide outstanding clinical care.
Improving Technology Literacy in Practice Staff
It will be beneficial to assess the technology literacy across the staff in the clinic to identify areas for improvement, whether it be how to use electronic medical records, emails, or the online booking system efficiently and productively.
Unsurprisingly, older generations tend to exhibit lower confidence levels with certain technologies. For example, one survey previously discussed found that 91% of respondents 50 years or under in age were confident with using computers compared to 72% of those over the age of 50. Similarly, 74.4% of those 50 years and younger were confident with navigating social media, while only 41% of those over 50 reported the same.1
In more practical, optometry-specific terms, you may consider the following depending on the particular roles and responsibilities of your staff members:
- Bringing in a representative from the supplier company to present a training session, whether it be for software such as , Optomate or a new piece of diagnostic equipment
- Attend CPD events around the use of new clinical equipment and technologies
- Learn the basics of cybersecurity, including password safety (updating passwords, what constitutes a strong password, etc.), identifying a phishing attack, or the use of secure networks
- If your clinic is part of a more extensive network, it may be worthwhile having a professional trainer come in to discuss cybersecurity practices and patient data safety with all staff
- Encourage your staff (and yourself) to explore and experiment with digital tools
Aim to create a culture of embracing change and adapting to new technologies as they emerge. Staff members should not be shamed for not knowing how to use technology but instead be encouraged to seek assistance and grow their digital skills for the benefit of other staff members and patients alike.
Investing in upskilling your staff in their technology literacy can take time, effort, and even money if you choose to bring in external trainers or coaches. However, the results for the quality of your patient care and overall workplace efficiency and productivity are well worthwhile.
- Kuek A, Hakkennes S. Healthcare staff digital literacy levels and their attitudes towards information systems. Health Informatics Journal. 2020; 26(1):592-612.
- Vital Work Life. Digital Literacy in Healthcare: Three Key Aspects Everyone Needs to Know. https://insights.vitalworklife.com/. 2023. Available at: https://insights.vitalworklife.com/digital-literacy-in-healthcare-three-key-aspects-everyone-needs-to-know. (Accessed May 2023).
- He Y, Aliyu A, Evans M, Luo C. Health Care Cybersecurity Challenges and Solutions Under the Climate of COVID-19: Scoping Review. J Med Internet Res. 2021;23(4):e21747.