Engaging with Nurses

User research informs education website

The twelfth of May is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, and International Nurses’ Day, an opportunity for people worldwide to celebrate the work of nurses, for the profession to reflect on its achievements, and for those whose lives have been touched by nurses to express their gratitude. The International Council of Nurses issues a theme for the event each year – this year’s was “Closing the Gap: Increasing Access and Equity”. In the UK, the Royal College of Nursing led the way, hosting the event website, which featured news and videos from healthcare professionals, patients and MPs.

The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, commented that nurses are “the beating heart” of the NHS, and the patient comments on the Nurses’ Day website testified to this. Nurses make up a greater proportion of NHS staff than any other group. In hospital, patients may have much more contact with nursing staff than with doctors, and not infrequently, it is the care received from this group that patients remember best. Being closest to the patient means nurses have a unique insight into how health care takes place – and this is recognised by many outside their profession.

The stereotype of nurses being caring, but otherwise relatively unskilled, and in a secondary position in relation to doctors is outdated, and does not reflect the dynamic role they play in today’s healthcare environment. These professionals are frequently involved in research and management, and the everyday work of a nurse can involve running clinics, directing a team, liaising with colleagues from various disciplines, prescribing medication and contributing to policy, as well as the familiar patient-facing roles. In some areas of health care, including where chronic diseases such as asthma or diabetes are concerned, nurse-led clinics can be considered the mainstay of patient care.

It is therefore key that pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare organisations understand the importance of engaging with nurses, and have developed a relevant engagement strategy to reach this increasingly influential group.

The essence of engaging with nurses

Engaging successfully with any group requires identification of the true areas of interest of that group, and/or the issues facing it, engaging in a relevant and accessible manner and adding value for the target group as a result of the interaction.

The true area of interest for the nursing profession could be stated as “helping people”. The issues facing the group are likely to include the NHS reforms and their potential impacts on patient care, and the declining job security from the professional’s perspective. Nurses are used to technology being part of their work, and are therefore likely to be open to a variety of means of engagement, from traditional methods to digital approaches. Finally, adding value for nurses could involve:

  • Helping improve patient care
  • Creating efficiencies through real-world solutions – nurses must work in high pressure environments, and any way to make working life easier from a practical perspective would no doubt be welcome
  • Offering information and education/training opportunities – the ever-changing nature of the profession, and the possibilities for learning and development are frequently cited as important attractions of a career in nursing

Engagement approaches

Interacting with nurses to better understand how they work and make decisions and to improve patient care could take a number of forms. The simplest could involve surveys or conversations in the RCN discussion area, or on www.doccheck.com, an information and networking site, which has 34,567 hospital nurses across Europe amongst its members. A useful starting point could be to find out more about how nurses view the direction of their profession, and what types of support they could benefit from.

An unmet need within the profession could well be access to information capital, both in regard to patients and to research/policy within the field, as well as regarding NHS structure and evolution, for nurses based in the UK. Many nursing practices have been revolutionised by the increased presence of technology within healthcare, but there is still room for further efficiencies – pen and paper is still widely used to record patient information, and staying up to date with the latest development in healthcare can be both time consuming and costly. In meeting such needs, digital approaches could play a significant role – online information portals, digital tools and information sharing services are some examples that would allow the criteria mentioned above to be fulfilled.

Online information portals

Nurse-specific information portals, such as the US-based www.nursetogether.com already exist, providing:

  • A secure space to network and share information
  • News on the latest research and policy
  • Training and educational material
  • Interactive components, such as polls

Johnson & Johnson are actively involved in promoting nursing as a profession, with their Campaign for Nursing, which seeks to attract men and women into nursing. The company also has a Nursing Notes Facebook page (currently with 6,490 followers), which has links to resources for nurses, a “Happy Nurse” game and information on the “Portrait of Thanks” project. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson has a nursing playlist as part of its YouTube channel, with 44,171 views.

The benefits of these online resources to nurses include easy, secure access to relevant and timely information that could be directly applied on the ward or in the clinic, improving work processes and enhancing patient outcomes. As online networks have no geographical boundaries, best practice can be shared globally. The sense of community encouraged by these sites and pages is critical, and no doubt serves as a point of support for many in the profession. The assets are also of interest to the public, particularly people who are considering a career in nursing, or who wish to express their gratitude to a particular professional.

The dedication of Johnson & Johnson to promoting and celebrating nursing is clear. Whilst such an approach may not be possible or as relevant for other pharmaceutical or healthcare companies, it is clear that providing assets around the topic of nursing is a powerful way of engaging with thousands of people.

Digital tools and information sharing services

The twelfth of May was also the official launch date of HealthUnlocked, an online resource for patients, healthcare professionals and healthcare organisations that allows patients to track their progress against interventions. This provides the patient with a tool to make the most of their consultations, the healthcare professional with at-a-glance summarised information on patients and interventions and healthcare organisations with an overview of which interventions represent the best value for money, when PROMs (Patient Recorded Outcome Measures) dictate how value is viewed.

HealthUnlocked joins PatientsLikeMe and CureTogether in the space of patient-driven healthcare information. Adapting such tools for nurses, encouraging nurses to use these as healthcare professionals or creating a nurse-specific offering could be of interest to the profession, given the potential for creating efficiencies and a health service that is truly focused on the patient.

Depending on their area of specialty, nurses may wish to be involved in understanding healthcare data in more depth, and again, digital tools can play a key role here. Digital methods have been used to appraise disease emergence and drug resistance patterns and understand how patients discuss their conditions online.

Nursing in challenging settings

Collecting, analysing and understanding health data could have an important role in answering the objective set out by the International Council of Nurses – to improve access to healthcare for all groups, and to work towards health equity on a global level.

According to the organisation’s International Nursing Day kit, nurses are the primary or sole caregivers in many challenging healthcare settings, such as rural, Third-world locations.

Digital approaches that provide increased understanding of disease patterns, or innovative ways of communication in remote areas may thus be of interest to organisations and individuals who operate in these areas.


Nurses are influential in delivering and shaping healthcare globally. In some cases, for example in remote areas in Third world regions, nurses may be the main or sole caregivers, and in the developed world, some specialties have a strong nurse-led component. The classic example here is pregnancy and birth, but the reach of nurse-led clinics in other areas is growing. This format of care delivery is particularly effective for chronic disease management – nurse-led clinics for asthma, diabetes and heart disease are features in many UK trusts, as are those for health promotion (smoking cessation, weight management).

Pharmaceutical and healthcare companies should thus look to developing targeted strategies for successful and mutually beneficial engagement with nurses, and digital approaches could be a feature of these.

Creation Healthcare advises pharmaceutical marketers, communicators and business leaders about improving outcomes in a changing engagement environment. If you would like to talk with a member of our team about how we can help you to develop a healthcare engagement strategy, contact us now.

View all articles >