Technostress: Too Much of a Good Thing

Technology has dramatically changed how we live and work. It has improved our lives in many ways, offering advantages that we could not have imagined a decade ago. Unfortunately, along with the good, have come some disadvantages. One of these is technostress.

So just what is technostress? In simple terms, it is the stress produced by working with technology. It can pop up as feelings of inadequacy when coworkers seem to be more computer literate than you. Or perhaps frustration because the software won’t cooperate the way you want. Or maybe every time you learn how to use your facility’s electronic systems, there’s another update that sends you back to square one. Whether the technology involved is a computer, tablet, smartphone, or any combination of these electronic devices, the emotional pressure and anxiety that they can produce is technostress.

We all suffer from technostress from time to time. The pervasive pressure to keep up with an ever-changing technology landscape creates tension that can build to an unhealthy level. You get stopped in your tracks by another glitch in the system, and there it is: You are overwhelmed, your head pounds, your muscles tighten, and your blood pressure rises. The diagnosis? Technostress. It surfaces as a state of anxiety—accompanied by irritability, mental fatigue, and a feeling of helpless—that can contribute to poor job performance and eventually a decreased level of job satisfaction.

As an example, consider how the electronic health record (EHR) can create technostress. Nurses may feel pressured or insecure using the EHR because they believe they are expected to have a greater level of computer proficiency than they do. They may have received inadequate training or may suffer through frequent updates and changes in how the system operates, demanding an unending series of learning curves. Although technical support may be available, it may be spread too thin. Then there’s a lack of interoperability. Not all EHRs are linked. Even within the same facility, it may not be possible for the nurse to access the information she needs. On top of all this, she may feel forced to adapt her workflow to conform to the software’s requirements because many EHRs are designed to accommodate the physician’s workflow, not the nurse’s—all this without the nurse ever having been given an opportunity to have input in the system’s design.

Taking a Closer Look

To investigate the effects of technostress and those most affected by it, Dr. Elizabeth Wertz Evans, PhD, RN, MPM, FACMPE, CPHQ, CPHIMS, FHIMSS, chose this topic for her doctoral dissertation. Dr. Wertz Evans is the executive director of Professional Practice and Programs for the Oncology Nursing Society. She began with some research and then narrowed her focus to the relationship between technostress and the nurse’s productivity level. “I thought that nurses could experience decreased productivity because of technostress, which would then leave the patients more vulnerable, especially when the nurse could not get access to important medical information,” Dr. Wertz Evans explains. “Particularly when the patient is complicated and that patient is being seen by multiple care providers, if medical information isn’t readily accessible and shared, there is a serious risk to the patient because not all of the care providers are on the same page.”

Dr. Wertz Evans used a survey that had been validated to gather responses from more than 100 oncology nurses. The nurses were asked to rate their reactions to statements correlating technology and productivity such as, “I do not know enough about this technology to handle my job satisfactorily,” “I often find it too complex for me to understand and use new technologies,” “There are constant changes in computer software in our organization,” “This technology helps to improve my productivity,” and “Our end-users are involved in technology change and/or implementation.”

The Findings

What Dr. Wertz Evans found was an inverse relationship between technostress and nurse productivity: Nurses with less technostress felt more productive. Nurses with more technostress felt that their productivity suffered. Dr. Wertz Evans also correlated the nurse’s age and level of education with the level of technostress. Although you might suspect that older nurses adapted less well to technology, this was not the case. Dr. Wertz Evans actually found that older nurses did not show any more difficulty adapting to technology. The survey group ranged in age from 21 to 60+ years old.

Based on her research, Dr. Wertz Evans suggests that administrators take heed. They should ensure that the nursing staff is properly supported throughout any changes in technology with adequate education and ongoing technical support to ensure a high level of productivity and patient care quality and safety and to minimize any opportunity for errors and contain health care costs. Also, nurses should be involved when technology decisions are made. As for nurses, Dr. Wertz Evans recommends that they speak up and let their managers know what works well and what doesn’t. And, for those that have a nurse informaticist in their facility, they should use that person as a resource.

For more details about the research study, contact Dr. Wertz Evans at [email protected] or call 412-859-6392.

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