Digitally literate health workforce for a resilient future
By Diana Nemes
Following the shock of the COVID-19 epidemic, health systems around the world are currently facing an unprecedented challenge. There is, nonetheless, a chance for improvement to fortify health systems. Collaboration is crucial when there are shortages in the health workforce (HWF) and difficulties in their working conditions. This workshop* aimed to unite generations to investigate, find, and exchange best practices for HWF education and (re)training in digital skills to give better patient care. It has been organised in conjunction by the Young Forum Gastein and EUPHAnxt. Healthcare is one industry where digitalisation has been advanced by the COVID-19 epidemic. However, it has also served to emphasise the digital gap, which could make it more difficult for medical professionals to provide the best care. At the same time, using digital technologies can help the HWF's difficult working conditions. It is past time to talk about how to increase digital literacy within a multigenerational HWF and how to give the upcoming generation of healthcare professionals the tools they need to rethink healthcare.
The workshop discussed methods for improving intergenerational collaboration by utilising digital literacy from a variety of viewpoints, including policy-making, science & academia, and governance. By the end of the workshop, participants had a realistic understanding of the potential of digital literacy and how it can be applied to support the resilience of health systems, ensure effective communication throughout the HWF, and ultimately protect patient care.
Speakers and panellists at this workshop: Natasha Azzopardi Muscat (WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen, Denmark), Marius-Ionut Ungureanu (Department of Public Health of the Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania), Brian Wong (EUPHA-DH; GHFutures2030, I-DAIR, London, UK), Ellen Kuhlmann (Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, Hannover, Germany)
I dived deeper in the subject and discussed with Ms. Ellen Kuhlman:
Q: How important is digital literacy after the start of 2020 pandemic? Can we talk here about task-shifting and skill mix among health professionals? Like transferring a certain task to someone more digitally literate.
A: That is a difficult question, because it depends very much on the context. There is definitely a transformative potential, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. We cannot expect that if we have new technologies to which the younger generation is more open to, this transformation will happen. There are so many conditions and policy issues - if there is innovation, there is also resistance. The health workforce is very hierarchical structured, very much about power and interest, and if digitalization provokes or enables transformation, it is important to know how well is prepared, governed, and managed in order to make sure that the people we bring in understand it. Digitalization is definitely useful and we should use it more wisely, but it is not per se useful because there are so many examples that digitalization brings extra costs, extra work, and resistance to change. It is not enough to have digital technologies if people are not literate in this direction and do not know how to use it - and I think that the COVID-19 pandemic increased or exaggerated this because everything had to happen so fast, and there was no specific structure and guiding, so confusion occurred.
Q: To what extent could telemedicine can lead to the impersonalisation of the health professionals? The relationship with the patient.
A: It can do everything because technology depends on its users. The workforce shortages also increases this possibility due to the fact that health professionals only have a little time to invest in every patient - this problem is not new, for sure. A surgery will still be a surgery, people will be there, but for certain, technology will add value because the health staff needs support. I am very sure that there are ways to organize this in a more effective way, so the staff will gain more time. Moreover, technology can be used to involve the patient more. Patients would be happy if they could do more and not be so passive - to have a sense of autonomy (especially for older people, through games and different tools).
Q: Are medical professionals expected to be digital literate? Do medical educational programs actually prepare the health workforce in this direction?
A: I must say I am not the best person to answer that because I am not familiar with the medical curriculum and I am not a doctor myself, but further research should be done in this direction.
The key takeaway messages on the subject of digital literacy among the health workforce:
- Digital literacy is not a stable level of knowledge - the health workforce needs opportunities to advance their knowledge and (digital) skills.
- Acknowledging the shortages in health workforce planning, it is essential to ensure adequate skills of the health workforce personnel.
*Details of this workshop: Organised at the 15th European Public Health Conference 2022, held 9-12 November in Berlin, Germany. Workshop organised by Young Forum Gastein, EUPHAnxt. Chair person: Matthias Wismar (European Observatory). Workshop title: 6.L. Round table: Digitally literate health workforce for a resilient future. Abstract of this workshop is available in the European Journal of Public Health, Volume 32, Issue Supplement_3, October 2022, ckac129.383, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckac129.383
Written by Diana Nemes (interviewer), Research Technician at the Department of Public Health, Babes-Bolyai University from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and EUPHAnxt fellow at the 15th European Public Health Conference, held 9-12 November 2022 in Berlin, Germany.
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or HaDEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.