In short-term health care settings, sophisticated information technology (IT) systems assist in the diagnosis of patients, support care management, and enhance adherence to clinical guidelines. However, current levels of IT sophistication in U.S. nursing homes are unknown. In response to recent efforts from policy makers to integrate IT in long-term health care, a University of Missouri researcher found, through two different studies, that the current level of IT use in Missouri nursing homes is minimal.
"IT sophistication has been studied extensively in acute care settings, but until these studies, IT has not been measured in long-term care settings. We found many different types of technology being used in nursing homes," said Greg Alexander, professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. "While some homes have advanced systems that aid nurses in making treatment decisions, wireless technology to assist in the delivery of care, and systems that support administrative and financial matters and inpatient self-management, the majority of Missouri nursing homes have minimal levels of technology in place."
According to Alexander, most agencies that advocate for wider uses of technology have overlooked nursing homes, despite the growing recognition that a stronger IT infrastructure is needed to address the complex health care needs of nursing home residents and improve the quality of care delivered in these facilities.
Recent concerns about errors in health care and patient safety have prompted policy makers and government committees to recommend the development of technologies to support clinical decision making and promote data standards. These recommendations also include designing systems that are able to communicate with each other. The Institute of Medicine recently released a report outlining the level of diversity and maturity of technology expected in nursing homes by 2010.
"These initial studies reveal that nursing home administrators have a long way to go before they achieve the goals suggested by the IOM report," Alexander said. "The development of IT profiles is a necessary first step toward benchmarking the best practices of IT use across nursing homes in the United States. The next step is to continue this study in other Midwest states and, eventually, in every state."
Alexander said the goal is to create a national infrastructure for health care providers that will enable the exchange of information between short-term care and long-term care facilities. Advancing technology will allow providers to coordinate and transfer work between settings as patients are relocated from one facility to another.
The first study, "IT Sophistication in Nursing Homes," will be published in "Long Term Care Interface." The second study, "Measuring IT Sophistication in Nursing Homes," will be published in the upcoming volume: Advances in Patient Safety from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
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