Evolving Skill Sets Required by Medical Practitioners – The Digital Side

Evolving Skill Sets Required by Medical Practitioners – The Digital Side
Cross Country Nurses
January 13, 2020 08:31 AM (GMT-04:00)

For healthcare practitioners – and those who employ them –the future of healthcare delivery and the skills required to provide high quality patient care in the digital age will take nods from both the new age and the days of cave dwellers.

Ironically, the digitally advanced age of healthcare delivery will require a rebirth of skills that have been used since the earliest of historic times. For now, let’s focus on the newly emerging skills being driven by the quickly advancing medical and scientific field.

In the very near future, many healthcare jobs will closely mirror technology jobs. With the advancements in 3D printing, wearables, telemedicine, and chatbots to name a few, the healthcare industry is beginning to look a lot like the tech industry. In fact, according to Hank Drummond, PhD, RN, Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer at Cross Country Healthcare, “technology is playing a larger role than ever in nursing and caregiving, and by all accounts will continue to be integrated at unprecedented levels in the future.”

Are We Ready?

There is little argument that much of the digital future of healthcare will be here within the next decade. In fact, Accenture Strategy forecasts that 50 percent of healthcare services will be provided virtually by 20301, and four out of 10 healthcare jobs will have at least 30 percent of tasks completed by robots, such as chatbots, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) in the next ten years.2

However, this digital transformation will likely need to accelerate at a rapid pace given the digital maturity of the healthcare industry today. In fact, a recent study examining the digital maturity of six industries found that the healthcare sector ranked third in terms of overall digital maturity, as healthcare firms typically lag about a decade behind other industries in adopting such technologies.3

This is prompting more healthcare organizations to embrace digital technology, and fast. Consider that 61% of healthcare executives see digital transformation to be important or even critically important to their survival today. In two years, that importance climbs to 76%. In five years, it rises to 86%.4 But, what about the workforce equipped to utilize and leverage digital transformations?

“The reality is without a digitally literate healthcare workforce, the innovations in technology will have little utility,” says Drummond. “Unless we begin to change both the curriculum and the staffing strategies in place to prioritize digital skills, thousands of inadequately prepared staff could be left behind amid an already challenging shortage of nursing and medical talent.”

Although rapidly increasing patient volumes and scope of healthcare needs, alongside technological innovations, are accelerating the need for a digitally enabled workforce to deliver the future of healthcare, Accenture research indicates only half of business leaders have a strategy for digital talent development. Furthermore, in a recent report by Deloitte Human Capital Trends, 100% of healthcare providers surveyed plan to make significant progress in adopting cognitive and AI technologies in the next three to five years, and 33% say they consider it a priority to train employees so they can work side by side with robots and AI.5 However, none have made significant progress towards that end.

So, as a healthcare practitioner or an organization who depends on them, it is critical to start now to shore up potential skill needs and gaps arising from technology. One way we can begin to address these gaps is through evolving curriculum at academic institutions. According to Patricia Liehr, PhD RN, Associate Dean for Nursing Research and Scholarship and Schmidt Distinguished Professor at Florida Atlantic University, “as nurses, our ability to positively impact people on a daily basis is unmatched. Therefore, the ability for us to bring technological know-how to our practice is paramount.”

“As we move into the digital healthcare environment, many of the skills required for success have not been part of our nursing education. Yet, the new digital landscape demands our willingness to expand our skills beyond our comfort zones. Our ability to be the best caregivers we can be relies on several factors: our caring presence to come to know those in our care; practice expertise that assures competence; and, the capacity to work within the systems and technologies that institutions and employers utilize,” says Liehr.

Top Digital Skills to Master for the Future.

When it comes to harnessing digital innovations for the future of healthcare delivery, one of the biggest barriers for health systems and facilities is the lack of suitable skills within their workforce. At the same time, practitioners with relevant tech skills will be highly sought-after and poised for future career success. “Nursing leaders are those nurses who rise to the challenge of continually adapting to new knowledge in healthcare, and who use technology and evidence to their advantage,” said Safiya George, PhD, Dean of FAU’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing. “Nursing leaders recognize that technology, informatics and advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, paired with our critical thinking skills and astute clinical skills, is what is needed now and in the future of healthcare.”

Here are three broad digital areas or skills both employers and practitioners should have on their radar:

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI). Machine learning or AI will produce tremendous benefits by generating and analyzing patient, clinician and health system data. It is already evolving at such a pace that it can now outperform humans on some specific tasks. The data intelligence it produces can help practitioners better predict, prevent, screen and even diagnose disease.

Big data also has the potential to help healthcare facilities and systems better predict key operational trends, such as patient volume, stay durations and care needs so they can better plan for clinical staffing. However, many hospitals and healthcare systems continue to face difficulties in effectively using all the data being generated in order to help their business and operations, requiring data specialists and professionals to achieve that goal.

AI will soon replace the administrative tasks required by nurses, including ordering tests or compiling notes, but will also improve medical image analysis, screenings and even support safer, higher quality care. All clinicians should educate themselves on the ethical standards and associated good practices when working with AI, best practices in data curation and interpretation/analyzation skills to leverage AI data.

  1. Digital Health/Medicine. Digital health/medicine represents a large segment of digital healthcare, including areas such as, telemedicine/telehealth, wearables and digital diagnostic tests. Particularly as patients and consumers expect more transparency, convenience and accessibility via technologies, digital medicine innovations will continue to reinvent the healthcare industry.

As such, providers will need to learn about data management, data privacy, data quality, ethics and regulations. Interpretation skills will be required to read patient-generated data (i.e. from wearables or even digital pill monitoring). Clinicians with the ability to leverage smartphone-connected diagnostic tests will be able to diagnose diseases earlier and develop more personalized treatments. In the realm of telemedicine, learning to utilize the basics such as, video calls, automatic speech recognition technology, online consultations and remote patient management will be critical.

  1. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). There is tremendous promise with AR and VR in both the delivery of healthcare and the training of practitioners. In fact, VR is already being used to train medical professionals with current predictions stating the value of VR in the medical field will grow as much as 30 times over the next five years alone.6

Regardless of specific career paths, learning about and how to use VR and AR will be critical to the future as these technologies will be fundamental to building both digital and cognitive skills. Healthcare professionals are already using VR technology for patient care, from enabling doctors to explore congenital heart defects in 3D to dampening pain signals for patients suffering from burns or chronic conditions.

VR and AR will also be used to help patients gain a better understanding of their health. Nurse and other support staff can show patients a virtual tour of their medical condition to educate and ease anxiety associated with the diagnosis. Also, nurses are turning more and more to VR to put patients into a calmer or even entertaining environment to help with pain management during certain procedures. “It is also important to note that AI used in healthcare depends greatly on nursing input and data derived from nursing knowledge, therefore, the need for nurses will always persist,” said Safiya George, PhD, Dean of FAU’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing. “The nursing role will just expand and transform in ways to allow incorporation of AI to improve patients’ experiences and outcomes and efficiency in care delivery.”

The Future is Now.

Critical thinking skills have always been important in the caregiving field because they are used to prioritize and make key decisions.  Given the potential for digital transformation in healthcare, the time is now for healthcare professionals and employers to turn their attention to future skill requirements. New technologies will, without a doubt, influence the roles and functions of clinical staff and their support over the next 20-30 years. It’s time to ask, what new skills will be required? And how can we build them?

Cross Country Healthcare is Leading the Way.

Cross Country Healthcare is committed to providing our stakeholders with the most highly-trained clinical staff, equipped to embrace and master the changing digital skills required for the future. To that end, we continue to invest time and resources into impactful training and development programs and opportunities. These include:

• Our American Nurses Credentialing Center- accredited Cross Country University offers our nursing professionals more than 90 continuing education contact hours in a range of content areas aimed at helping meet the challenges faced in a rapidly changing world of practice.

• A groundbreaking partnership with Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, in order to pursue joint collaborative research, educational and training activities aimed at building the most skilled and qualified nursing professionals in the marketplace


  1. Virtusa and Forrester Consulting, The Digital Transformation Race Has Begun, 2017
  2. Association for Talent Development, Healthcare Jobs 2.0: The Future of Healthcare and Tech, 2019

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