1. Kanoski, Sherry RN, BS
  2. Goettsche, Maggie RN

Article Content

For larger hospitals and healthcare systems, the decision to implement information technology (IT) upgrades and programs may come easy. But for rural hospital facilities, where budgets often experience greater limitations and communication networks are likely to be closer knit, the decision to invest in a progressive IT infrastructure can be more significant. In Illinois, McDonough District Hospital invested in a new IT system more than 5 years ago to begin a gradual conversion to more electronic-based functions. Along the way, our team has seen first-hand the fruits of our investments: the ability to maximize administrative efficiency, improve internal communication, and boost performance and patient safety measures among clinical staff.


Administrative efficiency

IT connectivity now gives healthcare organizations the ability to maximize administrative resources, which is especially beneficial to smaller, rural organizations. Updating a patient's chart, once a time-consuming manual task, can now be done in minutes and can reflect more accurate and in-depth reporting. That data can also be entered or accessed in real-time from the patient's unit or other departments throughout the hospital to multiple secure devices off-campus.


Internal communication

Patient information accessibility, the true backbone of any healthcare facility, is now faster, more efficient, and more accurate. Information once housed on a paper chart and transferred and stored in hard-copy form is now available to hospital staff when needed, more permanently and securely stored, and deciphered at a faster rate. All of our documents, including radiology results, are processed electronically.


A crucial part of any hospital data processing system, whether electronic or paper, is the ability to track statistics, trends, and other information that can aid in performance evaluation. With an electronic medical record system, we're finding that statistical tracking and evaluation of activity is done in a much quicker fashion. This advancement affords us the ability to plunge deeper and into more aggregate data without adding more personnel and time. The most important benefit is the ability to now get a more accurate representation of outcomes being measured by performance improvement initiatives.


It also helps the organization close the gap between the amount of time it takes to assess internal processes and implement structural changes to improve them. Additionally, as government and other reviewing institutions require hospitals to conduct more performance appraisals and studies of patient populations, it's more prudent to extract some of the required data by computer. And that computer-entered data can be transmitted electronically to these organizations.


Patient safety

When looking at patient safety initiatives-undoubtedly a major thrust at today's hospital's, large and small-it's essential to have access to patient history. The efficiency that comes with automation allows an organization to more thoroughly examine what is and isn't working and more accurately assess patient safety outcomes. We must still read and analyze the charts, but the computer system does ease the task of accessing clinicians' documentation.


Clinician retention

Another advantage to having a current IT system in a hospital is that it can greatly influence recruitment and retention of clinical staff. Nurses are currently graduating with a working knowledge of electronic-based systems and often look for those components in prospective places of employment. Nursing students are being trained to use IT applications and expect to be able to use them when they find employment. There's less need to worry about advanced IT systems creating a more extensive training period for new staff, but rather a need to worry about training staff to work without it. Both physicians and nurses have grown to rely on the efficacy of computer systems and may not desire to return to the old paper systems.


While some smaller, rural organizations are hesitant to make the costly investment in IT upgrades, we've experienced an invaluable return that enhances our efficiency, communication, performance, and patient safety.