IT in nursing homes gets overdue look

Informatics expert to study 10 percent of U.S. homes, seeks answers about how IT impacts care
By Mike Miliard
10:25 AM

For the first time in almost 10 years, a nationwide study will take stock of information technology in nursing homes, as researchers from the University of Missouri spend three years tracking the use of IT for residents' care.

Nearly all nursing homes use at least some sort of IT system, and that's been proving to better the quality of patient care, say MU officials. Still, no recent research has explored the relationships between IT 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 the study, in a press statement. "This study will show which types of IT affect the quality of nursing homes the most."

[See also: Long-term care providers use IT to help keep patients safe.]

Since technology is used in nursing homes to admit and discharge residents, monitor patients' dietary and pharmacy needs, complete administrative activities and, more recently, enable communication between families and loved ones, a certain level of IT sophistication should be an important factor to consider when individuals choose nursing homes, says Alexander.

"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," he said.

In a previous study of IT in Missouri nursing homes, Alexander found that IT helped health professionals make clinical decisions, track patients' care and protect residents' privacy. He recently received a grant of nearly $1 million from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to further that preliminary research 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."

[See also: Long-term care facilities face unique IT challenges.]

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, he 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.