NOVA FCT-led study shows that health professionals need more training in digital skills


A European study led by Luís Lapão, professor at NOVA FCT and UNIDEMI researcher, concludes that, in the current digital transition scenario, there is an urgent need to expand digital skills training programmes for healthcare professionals; the vast majority of professionals surveyed do not know how to use the necessary digital tools, from text editing applications to more advanced digital services technologies and applications, including telemedicine.

In the first half of 2023, the study 'Training Needs Assessment for the Design of Health Care Digital Transformation Courses in EU', co-funded by the European Commission's EU4Health project, surveyed the needs of health professionals in Portugal, Belgium, Latvia, Norway and Italy, focusing on digital skills, from basic to advanced levels. The results of the study are presented in a paper that will be released at two scientific conferences: on 25 June, at IEEE MELECON 2024, in Porto; and between 13 and 15 November, at the European Public Health Conference 2024, in Lisbon.

Among the results of the study, there is still some "inability to use" digital tools correctly, which contrasts with a sector that is constantly innovating and implementing digital processes. According to the healthcare professionals surveyed, 53% recognise that they have some digital information and communication skills, from text editing applications to internal communication applications (e.g. Microsoft Word, MS Teams), but only 27 per cent of professionals confirm that they are able to use these tools to solve problems in their healthcare work environment. With regard to advanced digital skills, namely using analytical tools or those based on the Internet of Things (e.g. smart devices, telemedicine applications), while 56% consider themselves to have data analysis skills (e.g. clinical records), only 21% of respondents claim to have mastered the digital solutions available to them, and 12% recognise that these technologies exist but do not use them.

The results of the study show that there is an urgent need to develop digital skills training programmes focused on the real, collaborative and individual needs of healthcare professionals, and that a retraining process is needed for them to keep up with the complex digital transition taking place in the healthcare sector.

The study also concludes that, according to professionals' needs and wishes, training should be in a hybrid format - although professionals prefer face-to-face training, directly in the workplace, the research shows that online teaching is effective, especially for the theoretical part. Healthcare professionals have mastered and are familiar with soft skills, but reiterate the need and interest in ongoing training, especially in time and stress management.

"In a rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, the digital transformation of healthcare is the unavoidable present and future. Without the necessary skills, particularly digital skills, this path will take an unsustainable turn for healthcare professionals and teams. This study clarifies the real needs of healthcare professionals, based on two main questions: what skills do they have? and what skills do they think they need to develop? The results show that we need to seriously invest in quality training at all levels of care, not forgetting primary health care, in order to achieve a digitally enabled ecosystem that keeps pace with these times of constant and rapid technological innovation," argues Mélanie Maia, the project's researcher and first author of the paper.

'Training Needs Assessment for the Design of Health Care Digital Transformation Courses in EU' consisted of a survey and focus-groups, carried out with around 390 validated participants representing the multidisciplinary nature of health professionals: nutritionists, radiologists, laboratory technicians, doctors, dentists, midwives, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, among others (including managers and consultants), in five European countries, including Portugal.

The research was led by a team of researchers from UNIDEMI, the Research and Development Unit in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at NOVA FCT, in collaboration with other researchers from the European Union. The study is part of the European project 'eHospital4Future - Building future through an innovated and digital skilled hospital' (EU4Health 101101190).


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