Digital Literacy Skills in Health and Social Care Professions


Like all industry, technology has both transcended and transformed the UK health and social care sector in ways unimaginable a decade ago. Connected health and Technology Enabled Care (TEC) are two of the main terms used to describe the complex range of health technologies now available. These include mobile devices and digital applications which enable service delivery, wearable devices for fitness and sleep-tracking and complex artificial intelligence algorithms that have the potential to mine medical records and design treatment plans.

Technological innovation within health and social care is growing at such a rate that the professions find themselves having to change to meet the demands of the digital age. Not only can technology enable potential visits by virtual GPs, robotics can help surgeons perform operations from around the globe remotely. Doctors can access X-ray data via mobile devices, hospital beds are now increasingly connected via Bluetooth tag technology, which in turn allows hospitals to track patients and treatments. The recently launched NHS App and NHS Digital Library App are tools that let patients book and manage appointments at their GP practice, order repeat prescriptions and securely view their medical records, thus saving time and making healthcare both more efficient and accessible.

How are roles in the sector being affected by digital technology?

The digital surge ushers in significant changes in how health and social care professionals carry out their everyday tasks and interact with patients and clients. To keep up with and use this technology efficiently, workers need to constantly update and refresh their digital literacy knowledge and skills. According to recent research by Skills for Care, social care organisations may not be effectively utilising the digital skills of their staff within the workplace or making the best use of the available technologies. The research showed that while 74% of staff have a personal smartphone, only 20% use the applications available on their personal phone for work purposes. 45% have a tablet device at home compared with only 8% having a work tablet.

What does it mean for new job seekers and the future of our health and social care workforce? Technological change affects employees right across the sector, requiring a whole host of digital skills, capabilities and knowledge. Accessing e-wage slips, digital data sharing across organisations, writing digital care plans, monitoring bed occupancy rates through Management Information Systems and recording the delivery of medication electronically requires workers to be digitally literate.

Existing roles are adapting. Nurses and midwifery staff are now using technology to co-ordinate care and identify information needed to improve clinical decision making. Pharmacists can now use a Prescribing Simulator, a formative assessment tool, to develop their prescribing skills. New roles are emerging too. For example, digital informatic specialists can be found across the sector including nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions. An Information Officer will lead clinical teams on digital healthcare matters and a Technical Architect will design the data collection systems for the front-line delivery of care.

It is clear that all health and social care professionals need to keep up with advancing technologies and make digital literacy a priority within their own continuous professional development. To not make it a priority could render staff incapable of providing the appropriate and quality care in a future tech-driven sector. It is achievable however. Here are four simple strategies to support and improve your digital literacy skills.

1.Take ownership of your digital learning

Understand how digital technology impacts on your role. The Digital Literacy Capability Framework (see Figure 1, below) is a guide and developmental tool to help you assess your own capabilities and identify areas for training. Technology can be scary for many, but we have to accept that it is going to continue to advance and is now part and parcel of everyday health and social care work. It is therefore important to have a healthy, positive and engaged mindset when it comes to your learning.

2.Seek support

Your manager should support you to be the best that you can be in your career. Appraisal and Supervision are the formal processes which support your continuous professional development- identifying skills gaps and providing appropriate training. A tailored digital skill learning plan could be produced to track and evaluate your progress.

3. Be open to all learning opportunities

Learning can be formal, informal, directed and self-directed. For many informal learning can provide the most accessible option. This could take the form of work-shadowing, mentoring and/or ‘cascade learning’ (whereby a digitally literate individual provides the informal training to another, who then shares what he/she has learnt to others, who then shares what he/she has learnt with others.). Formal learning might also be available depending on need and discussion with line manager.

4. Find a Champion

Identify and seek out a mentor, buddy or a designated ‘digital champion’ to support your learning and development. Your department or organisation may have ‘champions’ who have specific digital knowledge and skills. Alternatively you may have access to ‘knowledge banks’ or ‘collaborative sharing initiatives’ which provide specialist expertise across professions and organisations.

Figure 1. The six domains of person-centred digital literacy


Source: Improving Digital Literacy- HEE and RCN report.pdf

For further information on the Digital Literacy Capability Framework including capabilities, skills, behaviours and attitudes click here.

Further Reading

Tracy Walters is an experienced and qualified Careers Advisor, working with Careerwave to support schools, sixth forms and colleges to make sure that their learners get the best impartial advice to set them on the right path or the future. You can find out more about the services that Careerwave offer on their website, or by following them on Twitter at @careerwaveuk