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The magnetic draw of information technology


During the last century, the quality of healthcare in the United States improved nearly every decade. Undoubtedly, we’re now providing safer and more effective patient care. But at the same time, healthcare has gained tremendous scope and complexity. Developing tools and practices that help nurses perform their jobs better and more efficiently is absolutely critical.

According to the Center for Nursing Advocacy, the United States will need roughly 1 million new nurses by 2012, and nurses already on rounds will face increasing pressure as the workforce feels the full effect of aging baby boomers. How can nurses continue to improve the quality of healthcare while coping with its increasing complexity and a shrinking workforce? Meridian Health, a three-hospital, three-time Magnet-designated health system in southern New Jersey, credits healthcare information technology (HIT) with enhancing efficiency and knowledge and helping raise the bar on clinical excellence. HIT is the “magnetic” force uniting high-quality nursing care and patient safety across the country.

Compelling change with HIT

In 1998, Meridian Health became the first U.S. hospital system to be awarded Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Magnet designation is one of the industry’s most celebrated indicators of high-quality patient care—and one of the hospital’s ultimate motivators. It helps staff to continuously benchmark excellence in nursing performance and patient outcomes.

Using INVISION, a comprehensive HIT solution from Siemens Medical Solutions, Meridian Health has identified and standardized protocols, improved documentation, and tracked, monitored, and improved reporting. These abilities have enhanced the clinical workflow and improved safety while boosting nurses’ satisfaction and morale. By automating and standardizing our processes, HIT has allowed reengineering of the health system’s clinical practices to ensure that nurses have the information they need to support optimal decisions and actions at every point in care delivery.

A magnet for best practices

HIT has had a powerful impact on our ability to reduce unnecessary errors and save patients’ lives. When we partnered with Siemens in 1994, one of the first initiatives was to automate clinical documentation at the point of care, including nursing assessments, physician and nursing orders, interdisciplinary patient care plans, medication administration, and the nursing rounds report. Electronic reporting “dashboards” now track all patient data entered into the patient’s electronic health record, enabling us to monitor and evaluate documentation compliance.

Our Fall Prevention Committee put this technology to work when administrators noted that fall risk assessments weren’t being fully documented at the end of each nursing shift—an alarming threat to patient safety. To correct the problem, the Committee made fall risk assessment a mandatory field in the nursing admission assessment and moved it from the end of the assessment to the beginning.

Now nurses are prompted to satisfy every parameter of the assessment before patient documentation is considered complete. Also, patient information captured from the assessment is highlighted at the top of the nursing rounds report, alerting nurses that the patient is at risk for falls. What’s more, the interdisciplinary patient care plan is automatically updated to include patient-specific reminders of fall prevention and patient outcome goals.

By integrating evidence-based assessment guidelines within the clinical documentation system, we’ve improved compliance with industry standards and increased patient safety while streamlining the nursing workflow. Our documentation compliance has risen more than 60%.

With such patient safety initiatives in place, we use a “plan-do-check-act” approach to continuously observe processes and documentation to improve efficiencies. This helps us identify opportunities to further enhance the safety and quality of nursing services. The robust functionality of our HIT system enables us to do this and makes quality assessment a hallmark of our patient care successes.

Nursing’s HIT-charged future

HIT translates vital patient information into valuable insight, enabling healthcare providers to make more informed, potentially life-saving decisions at the bedside. With intuitive interfaces, wireless connectivity, seamless integration, and the ability to access critical data when and where it’s needed, HIT technology can help compensate for the chronic nursing shortage while improving care and better serving our patients.

Our HIT-enabled vision for safe, high-quality healthcare is a journey—and a destination—that continues to empower us to be a collaborative workplace. Through our investment in HIT and our three-time achievement of Magnet status, we’ve seen a measurable effect on the morale of our nursing staff. Happier nurses help us attract and retain the best and brightest of our profession. By actively engaging nurses in decision making and in improving their own practice environment, we’ve seen employee satisfaction reach an all-time high and a nursing turnover that’s well below the national benchmark. Of course, this has had a direct impact on our patients’ satisfaction rates, which are currently in the 90th percentile.

Above all, we’ve made nursing excellence a daily standard. Our nurses spend more time providing direct patient care and less time accessing and charting clinical information.

Our commitment to technology has positioned us as an organization of clinical excellence, a care model dedicated to fostering a seamless environment where nurses deliver—and patients receive—superior care. With the right tools in place to support best practices, we’re transforming the future of healthcare and making it easier than ever to be a “magnet” for nursing success.

Nancy Winter, RN, MSN, CNA, is Senior Manager of Patient Care Services at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, N.J.

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