Information Technology Improves
Patient Care and Increases Privacy,
Informatics Expert Says
The federal government invested more than $25 billion in health information technology (IT) as a result of
the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act; yet, little
is known about how IT applications improve patient
safety and protect their privacy. Now, a University of
Missouri nursing informatics expert suggests that sophisticated IT leads to more robust and integrated communication strategies among clinical staff, which allows staff to
more efficiently coordinate care and better protect patient
Greg Alexander, an associate professor in the MU
Sinclair School of Nursing, found that practitioners use
IT to help make clinical decisions, electronically track
patients’ care and securely relay medical information.
Conversely, 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.
“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 says.
“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,” he adds.
Alexander also found that face-to-face communication among staff decreased in nursing homes with more
IT. Future research will determine how this decreased
face-to-face communication affects clinical workflow, staff
relationships and quality of patient care, he said.
“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,”
“Technology is a tool that supports the delivery of
care, but it doesn’t replace it,” he adds.
Alexander is the co-principal investigator on 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 enhance staff communication through technology and
better information exchange.
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