Computer Charting for Nurses: 5 Ways to Get Great at It

Nurses with Computer Charting ProblemsElectronic Medical Records. Computer Charting. You might hear those words and shudder. It might remind you of spending minutes at a time trying to load a single page, clicking around to find a lab value, or losing 10 minutes of charting because of some system error. For better or for worse, however, EMR is here to stay. The healthcare industry is already heavily invested in it, and it’s hard to imagine facilities going back to paper charting. If you’re not a fan of EMRs, here are 5 tips to help you get better at using them!

The Key to Learning

Sometimes, it’s all too easy to hate documenting on computers. Each software is different. Some are worse than others, and many can be really hard to navigate.

Most nurses believe learning new software is hard. This belief is especially hurtful because if you think something is hard, you’re probably not going to give it much of a try. Some might even get depressed and give up, asking other nurses to do things on the computer for them, or even quitting their jobs.

Many nurses think that being young and growing up with computers and smartphones are the most important thing that makes it easier to use EMRs.

That is not the most important thing, however. While it’s true that many younger nurses learn these systems very well, it’s not just because they are young. The most important thing is having confidence in your ability to learn.

The only reason I can learn new computer systems easily is because I know that it’s not that hard! That knowledge is the key. You can have that knowledge too. You can get better at computer charting. I’ll show in the next 5 tips how to systematically get better at using any software.

  1. Ask your Workmates

    I built this website, as well as this blog, almost from scratch. I learned to write code and use web development software. All in all, I’m pretty good with computers. However, even I sometimes have to ask my co-workers how to find certain things. The menus and interfaces are sometimes so cluttered, it’s something you just need to ask about.

    Don’t be afraid to ask! If your facility trains “super-users” (staff who are designated local experts on a subject), use them as a resource. It would be a waste not to.

    I’m sure you already do this, however. There is a correct way to have a workmate help you, as well as an incorrect way. Read on:

  2. Do it Yourself and Pay Attention

    When you ask somebody to help you find a document to print or navigate to a page, don’t let them do it for you. You have to do it yourself! A good way is to have them look over your shoulder and direct you.

    Most importantly: don’t just blindly follow what they are telling you. Take note of what page you are on, which buttons you are pressing, and piece the process together in your mind. It’s not much different than learning how to put on sterile gloves, for example. In nursing school it was kind of tough. But after you pieced everything together,you can do it in about 5 seconds.

    Take the time to observe each step. Don’t worry about your co-worker waiting for you. It’s better to go slow the first time than to repeatedly ask for help, right? Doing the clicking and thinking through it to yourself will make it much easier to imprint the process into your mind.

    As you keep doing this, you’ll learn each task in a systematic way.

  3. Clustering Activities

    One of the biggest computer charting complaints is that it is slow. Sometimes it is out of your control. If the program just moves slowly, there’s not much you can do. You might consider clustering your activities. Clustering activities basically means doing repetitive actions together, all at once. For example, logging onto your computer may take 10 seconds. If you log on 15 times to document things as they happen, you’ll be spending 150 seconds in total logging on. That doesn’t include all the clicks you have to get to your destination.

    Instead, try doing all your tasks at once. It is not time-efficient to always document things on the spot. Many times, during a big medpass, for example, you’ll have no choice but to just document all the medications at the end. Quickly jot down any vitals or parameters you will need to document, then sit down and chart it all in one “cluster.”

  4. Speed Up your Typing Skills

    Learning to type is another key to speeding up with your nursing documentation. It is an investment in yourself to learn how to type faster. In today’s high-tech environment, knowing how to type will make many things easier at work and at home.

    It may take you a few days, even weeks, to master typing. However, it is a universal skill and if you haven’t gotten around to learning, seriously consider learning for a half-hour a day. It will be worth it when your fingers are flying across the keyboard, writing progress notes in seconds!

    There are many typing lessons on the web. Start with a popular one like

  5. Learn Easy Computer Techniques

    There are techniques common across all systems. If you learn them, you can really speed up your work using shortcuts.

    • Use Cut, Copy and Paste: You can do this in two ways. Use the right click on the mouse to pull up a menu, where you can cut or copy a section of words. Otherwise, you can use the keyboard. Ctrl+X cuts, Ctrl+C copies, and Ctrl+V pastes.

      If you have charting where you need to repeatedly type the same word or phrase over and over, save some time by copying it. By pressing Ctrl+V, you can paste it anywhere you need to in half a second.

    • Find Any Word on a Page

      Press Ctrl+F. With some programs, a space will come up where you can search the current page for any specific work. For example, if you are looking through a patient’s active orders for a specific medication, try Ctrl+F, then type that medication. It will take you right to it. Then you can press ‘Enter’ to go down to the next place it appears on the page. It’s very useful to find specific sections of a very cluttered and wordy page. If your EMR is based on the internet, the Internet Explorer browser will definitely have this feature.

Have any more tips, complaints or advice for other nurses? Share them below! You can find me on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks for reading.


  • jack says:

    It is really disturbing to me that I was a nurse 25 plus years at one facility. The emr system was introduced and we all struggled together. I was not fast at the keyboard then, but we all helped each other. My biggest mistake was to leave that hospital and go to a whole new system, where you feel like a fish out of water. I pride myself on my clinical skills. But they slap me in the face because of time management. I almost feel like my career is over unless I find somewhere they have paper charts in the home and that could be a waste of good nursing skills. Nursing to me has become more of a click of the mouse, with no time for hands on. Just needing to vent but advice is appreciated

    • Kevin Pan says:

      I know a lot of people who feel the way you do. Check out the tons of comments that this Medscape survey triggered!

      I agree with you as well. There is so much navigating and clicking to be done in many of these programs that if you’re not really good at it, you’ll find you have no time to be with your patients (or staying long after your shift back-charting). You mentioned a good point though, that it really helps to have time to get used to a particular computer system (like at your old hospital).

      This is unfortunately a learning curve that perhaps only time will cure. What I mean by that is, put a concerted effort into learning your EMR. It will take time. It will feel like you’re progress is snail-paced. But after a few months, no matter how un-computer savvy you are, you’ll see improvements in your speed and comfort levels. It looks like there’s not much other alternative, since everyone has their own charting system nowadays. I haven’t seen ANY paper-charting facilities since I even began my career.

  • Lucy Meehan says:

    I came across your site searching for free software for documenting private home care patients. I have worked at creating my own with Google docs but it’s pretty clunky. The listings for free nursing care software is usually just a pitch to get you to buy extremely pricey software aimed at much larger businesses. Have you come across any such tools?

  • menorget says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all abut computer charting . for Nurses 5 way
    to get great at it .you are so brilliant stay blessed.

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