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MU Informatics Expert Conducts National Study of Nursing Homes’ IT Use

Expert will examine the relationship between IT use and the quality of patient care in nursing homes

Dec. 16, 2013

Story Contact(s):
Jesslyn Chew, ChewJ@missouri.edu, (573) 882-8353

By Diamond Dixon

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Nearly all nursing homes use some sort of information technology (IT) system, and  previous research has shown the use of IT in nursing homes is related to the quality of patient care; however, no recent nationwide study has evaluated which types of IT systems affect which aspects of nursing home care. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri will be the first to study the relationships between IT systems and specific components of nursing home care, such as resident care, clinical support and administrative activities.

“The last national study of IT in nursing homes was completed nearly a decade ago, and since then, nursing home administrators have shifted the types of technologies being used,” said Greg Alexander, associate professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and lead researcher of this study. “This study will show which types of IT affect the quality of nursing homes the most.”

Alexander says IT sophistication should be an important factor to consider when individuals choose nursing homes for their loved ones. IT is used in nursing homes to admit and discharge residents, monitor patients’ dietary and pharmacy needs and complete administrative activities.  Furthermore, some facilities are beginning to use IT to communicate with families who have loved ones in these facilities.

“People may not consider IT implementation to be important when searching for a nursing home, but IT certainly impacts the communication between staff and the continuity of care for the patients,” Alexander said.

Previously, Alexander studied the use of IT in Missouri nursing homes and found that IT helped health professionals make clinical decisions, track patients’ care and protect residents’ privacy. Alexander recently received a grant of nearly $1 million from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to further his preliminary research in Missouri and expand his state study to a national level.

“Our research team will study 10 percent of all U.S. nursing homes’ IT use for the next three years,” Alexander said. “We will track survey responses each year and analyze how trends in IT adoption levels correlate with nursing home quality measures, such as the number of residents with urinary tract infections, pressure ulcers and pain.”

Alexander hopes to use his findings to determine which IT capabilities lead to high-quality care in order to benchmark best practices of IT implementation in nursing homes throughout the country. Also, Alexander hopes to understand how IT is being adopted in nursing homes. This information will be used to create more specific educational programs for various nursing home disciplines and fill the knowledge void regarding IT implementation in nursing homes. In addition, Alexander hopes the results of his study will influence the science of nursing home quality measurement by incorporating variables such as IT, which previously has not been included in these quality measurement systems. In turn, this information could help family members make better informed decisions about which nursing homes would be best for their loved ones.

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