Women in Health IT

It hasn’t hit the headlines, but it should do

While COVID-19, the US presidential election and Brexit have been hogging the headlines, there’s been a groundswell of change building in healthcare. Specifically around giving the nursing professional a voice that is heard.

I’ve been privileged to work in nursing for over 20 years, and in that time I’ve seen many changes, such as the huge increase in smart devices (for example for e-observations), the proliferation of mobile technology, the move to paperless, and the rise of nursing informatics culminating with the relatively recent post of Chief Nursing Information Officer. CNIO is a new job title which mirrors the more established, Chief Clinical Information Officer. Last year I wrote about the fledgling CNIO Network, which is a forum for CNIOs to reach out to each other, network, share and learn from each other’s experiences. This is particularly pertinent as every Trust is looking at how they can tackle and embrace Digital working practices – in short, digital transformation.

Elsewhere, CHIME Digital Leadership has instigated two new programmes that will benefit 200 nurse leaders in the UK, including working with the Florence Nightingale Foundation to deliver new scholarships in digital leadership. https://chimecentral.org/2020_year_of_the_nurse_in_uk/

In our own organisation, Imprivata, we have a Women in Technology group, started several years ago by a group of women in Engineering. Today it is active across the business representing all functions and departments. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/imprivatas-women-technology-kelliann-mccabe/

This rise of the nursing voice generally and within IT in particular is nothing but good news. Nurses are the frontline and they need to be heard.

I was recently invited to join a panel discussion hosted by HIMSS on Achieving Gender Parity in the Digital Health Workforce (on online event as nearly everything is at the moment), which discussed the results of the latest HIMSS survey on achieving gender parity. The survey was sent to an international audience covering countries in Europe, Middle East and Africa. As you would expect there were differences across the various countries – the webinar can be listened to here: https://www.himss.org/resources/achieving-gender-parity-digital-health-workforce-webinar

As well as the results of the survey, we discussed how to improve gender parity. The overwhelming conclusion was to increase awareness and visibility, with education programs in schools, and raising the profile of health informatics as a career choice. Initiatives such as the CHIME programs and the CNIO Network are certainly positive steps in broadcasting the possibilities in this area.


Why is it so important

Gender parity is not purely a health issue, or an IT issue, it is also a business issue. Tackling any problem or challenge from different perspectives is going to result in a more balanced response. Different people think differently and take alternative approaches. Gender parity issues are nothing new, its been reported on for years. In 2017 the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report estimated that gender parity could add an additional US$250 billion to the UK GDP, US$1,750 billion to US GDP and increase global GDP by US$5.3 trillion by 2025 assuming that it closed its gender gap for economic participation by 25% over the same period.

While in healthcare women have long been a crucial (if somewhat unsung) part of the workforce, now we are seeing, or rather hearing, nursing finding its voice.

As healthcare embraces digital transformation and brings in new services such as tele-medicine, remote treatments and virtual clinics, the challenge is to stem the flow of qualified nurses leaving the profession. Listening to what nurses have to say, harnessing their experience to make a difference on the frontline, and giving those that want a career in the hugely important IT function will all help to transform healthcare in the 21st century.