Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 14, 2013

Health Informatics Technology Improves Patient Care, Communications at Nursing Homes: Study

It seems obvious that information technology can improve patient care.

It was recently shown that patient-care settings – such as nursing homes – with less advanced technology may see lower levels of care and less privacy for their patients.

In a recent study, Greg Alexander, who teaches at the nursing school at the University of Missouri, concludes that healthcare practitioners use information technology to “help make clinical decisions, electronically track patients' care and securely relay medical information,” the university said.

“Staff members in nursing homes with less IT use verbal means or visual cues to identify patients' needs at central locations such as nursing stations, on patients' doorways or in closets,” the study shows.

"In nursing homes that have technology, much of the information is kept close to the patient and communication occurs more often at the bedside rather than at nursing stations, which is ideal," Alexander added. "Staff without IT rely on more creative ways to communicate, such as posting a photo of a water droplet on patients' doors to indicate the patients need to be hydrated. This may create issues for privacy and leaves room for misinterpretation among staff."

The study also shows that face-to-face communication among staff likely decreased in nursing homes with more IT. More research will be done to determine the impact of this trend.

"The electronic system provides a means of tracking patients' needs and assuring that work is done, but it can't completely replace face-to-face interactions," Alexander added. "Technology is a tool that supports the delivery of care, but it doesn't replace it."

The U.S. government invested more than $25 billion in health information technology following the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Alexander is the co-principal investigator on a study funded by a $14.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services meant to reduce avoidable re-hospitalizations among nursing home residents. One goal of the project is to increase staff communication through technology and better information exchange.

Alexander is a specialist in health informatics, and looks at interrelationships between patients, technology, and the nursing home industry. Health informatics combines such fields as information science, computer science, and healthcare, according to online information. Communications plays a key role in the field, as well.

For instance, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) has called on stakeholders to lessen the risk of patient harm from poorly designed and implemented technology, HealthTechZone reported.

A new AMIA study calls for establishing best practices for IT systems with electronic health records (EHR), standardization, adverse event reporting, education for healthcare workers, monitoring how IT health systems are used and maintained, and more oversight.

“The fundamental approach to health IT needs to change," study author Dr. Blackford Middleton, who works at Partners Healthcare System and is 2013 AMIA chair-elect, told InformationWeek Healthcare. "We've been installing it and not measuring it like we would any other intervention."

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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