The challenges of caring in a technological environment: critical care nurses' experiences

J Clin Nurs. 2008 Apr;17(8):1096-104. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.02050.x.


Purpose: This paper presents and discusses the findings from a phenomenological study which illuminated the lived experiences of experienced critical care nurses caring within a technological environment.

Background: While nursing practice is interwoven with technology, much of the literature in this area is speculative. Moreover, there is a debate as to whether and how 'high tech' and 'high touch' are reconcilable; this orientation is referred to as the optimism vs. pessimism debate. On a personal level, the motivation for this study came from the author's 13 years' experience in the critical care area.

Method: Following ethical approval, 10 experienced nurses from two cardiothoracic critical care units in Ireland participated in the study. A Heideggerian phenomenological methodology was used. Data collection consisted of unstructured interviews. A method of data analysis described by Walters was used.

Findings: The findings provide research-based evidence to illuminate further the optimistic/pessimistic debate on technology in nursing. While the study demonstrates that the debate is far from resolved, it reveals a new finding: life-saving technology that supports the lives of critically ill patients can bring experienced nurses very close to their patients/families. The three main themes that emerged: 'alien environment', 'pulling together' and 'sharing the journey' were linked by a common thread of caring.

Conclusion: Experienced critical care nurses are able to transcend the obtrusive nature of technology to deliver expert caring to their patients. However, the journey to proficiency in technology is very demanding and novice nurses have difficulty in caring with technology. Relevance to clinical practice. It is recommended that more emphasis be placed on supporting, assisting and educating inexperienced nurses in the critical care area and that the use of technology in nursing be given serious consideration.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiac Care Facilities*
  • Critical Care*
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • Medical Laboratory Science*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Workforce