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Let's Talk About AI: Communication Tips for CNOs

Analysis  |  By G Hatfield  
   June 17, 2024

CNOs need to be clear and transparent in communication surrounding AI, says this nurse leader.

AI has been all over the news recently, especially when it comes to nurses.

Many have questions about implementation and ethics, and it is up to CNOs and other nurse leaders to communicate with their workforce about what AI means for nurses. 


According to Betty Jo Rocchio, senior vice president and chief nurse executive at Mercy, there are three main concerns that nurses have with AI. The first is about the ethics of generative AI.

"We've not explored this too much in nursing workflows," Rocchio said, "so taking a look at some of those ethical considerations and getting out ahead of it may help us a little bit."

The second concern is job displacement.

"While we have no plans on it taking out jobs, I do think it is informing, a little bit, how we practice," Rocchio said, "which can make some just a little bit nervous."

The third is loss of human touch and connection with the patients.

"Nursing depends on us being up close and personal with the patient," Rocchio said. "Sometimes nurses think that some of these automated, generated things may get between that relationship with the patient."

Nurses also have concerns about how AI will integrate with their workflows. Since AI implementation is so new, many health systems do not know where they will use it yet.

"That unknown entity of how we might use it in the future might be driving some of the trepidation behind AI," Rocchio said.

Settling doubts

The purpose of generative AI implementation in nursing, according to Rocchio, generally consists of these three key points:

"I think the purpose is going to be around leveraging technology to optimize nursing practice to assist some nurses with [getting] information out of our EHR directly to the front lines, [and] to help us improve outcomes for patients," Rocchio said.

Rocchio mentioned three ways that Mercy is communicating to their workforce, to help nurses understand AI's relationship with their workflows.

The first is through education and training. Nurses are used to receiving a lot of education and training, Rocchio explained, but not usually around process issues.

"We're going to have to start thinking about [incorporating gen AI] into our training programs," Rocchio said. "There are going to be applications where we use it in healthcare and many nurses may not even be aware that we are using it in certain circumstances today."

The leaders at Mercy are also trying to emphasize that when AI is placed into workflows to help quicken information delivery and documentation processes, it frees up nurses to spend more time with patients.

"That [loss of] human touch they're so worried about can be mitigated [by] giving them back more time at the bedside," Rocchio said.

Additionally, Rocchio said they try to engage nurses directly with the AI implementation process on the front lines.

"When you're thinking about what may help them at the front lines, [in] that implementation phase," Rocchio said, "they should be directly responsible and [involved] in some of that."

Beyond AI

It's important for nurse leaders to communicate about all new forms of technology and integration, beyond just AI, so that nurses can understand what's coming next. According to Rocchio, one of the best things to do is talk about what regular communication patterns will look like between leaders and nurses.

"Nurses need to know what to expect and where the communication source is coming from," Rocchio said, "not just from nursing leadership, but [also from] our office of transformation."

Nurse informaticists and the rest of the digital team should be a part of the communication process as new technologies are deployed. Rocchio said that the communication patterns that come from nurse leadership and digital leadership should be consolidated into one single framework so that nurses can consume it.

Mercy has also launched a learning module around some of the new technologies.

"Nurses are starting to learn that there are going to be different ways to do things within our learning management system," Rocchio said, "so we're using what they're used to getting education and communication patterns with…to talk about AI."


CNOs must be clear with nurses about the implementation process, goals, and outcomes, Rocchio explained.

"Being transparent about our plans for the new technologies as well as our timelines and goals and our expected outcomes," Rocchio said, "and then making sure we provide regular updates on [if we are] hitting the goals."

Leaders also need to be clear about when problems arise.

Rocchio explained how when they launched their emergency department to inpatient handoff process with AI, they did not get it right the first time. When the pilot was launched on one unit, the AI had a couple "hallucinations," where the incorrect data was pulled into the format.

"We were very transparent with the nurses," Rocchio said. "We showed them how it happened, and we went back and corrected it, so they could see ethically that we were doing the right thing."

Leadership visibility and accessibility are also key.

"When we launched our workforce platform with AI in the background, the other thing we did was make sure that leaders and individual caregivers were there to make decisions around how that AI was put into the system," Rocchio said.

"I think both of those things are really important to make sure that those key messages are consistent across all platforms," Rocchio said. 

G Hatfield is the nursing editor for HealthLeaders.


Nurses are concerned about the ethics of generative AI, and about whether AI will cause job displacement or loss of time with patients.

CNOs should provide education and training to nurses about AI and engage frontline nurses in implementation processes.

Leaders from both the nursing and digital transformation departments must align their messaging and be transparent about plans, outcomes, and setbacks.

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