Janni Lerche Andersen and Malene Hjelm-Svennesen are nurses with master's degrees in Health IT. They work at NNIT as specialized IT consultants for the healthcare sector. Here, they present their opinions on how IT can contribute to quality enhancements in the healthcare sector.
As trained nurses, Janni and Malene have first-hand experience with the hospital's clinical processes. Their expertise within the healthcare sector is vital when NNIT provides consultancy services to the hospitals in Denmark. For Janni and Malene, good IT practice is a matter of supporting the clinicians in the work they love the most: providing the best care and treatment to the patients. "Good IT practice should not take up all the time of the clinicians and secretaries – on the contrary, it should give them more time for the patients," they both agree.
The Danish healthcare sector is one of the most digitalized healthcare sectors in the world. A hospital is a complex organization with many departments and specialists. The workdays are dynamic and generally unpredictable, and clinicians, patients, and relatives need to be able to get a quick overview of care and treatments. One major challenge is that there are many different systems that are not all integrated. This makes it difficult to make a complete assessment of a patient. In addition, several systems have to be accessed at the same time to retrieve all the data and this is quite time-consuming. Therefore, the aim should be to gather all of the information in a database or to integrate the systems to a wider extent. This will save time on information retrieval and provide the necessary overview.
Malene Hjelm-Svennesen explains how good IT practice will contribute to quality enhancements for the patients:
"If a nurse is presented with some questions from a patient or relatives and is not able to retrieve the necessary information, it may hurt his/her professionalism and be perceived as uncertainty even though it is not a matter of professional skills. This uncertainty may be conveyed to the patient or the relatives and this is not a satisfactory situation for any of the parties. On the other hand, when IT supports the professional skills and workflows of the clinicians by giving them a quick and simple overview, they will be able to concentrate on their core service – care and treatment of the patients. And this is where we are heading".
They both point out that a complete overview ensures more accurate diagnoses, targeted care and treatments, saved resources and increased patient safety and quality. "An overview is simply one of the most vital key markers for a good IT system," Janni Lerche Andersen explains. The time that becomes available due to the reduced IT administration time can be spent on softer, but extremely important responsibilities, such as playing with a child before an examination to make the child feel safe or talking to a concerned relative who would otherwise not get a chance to ask any questions.
Another – and more practical - crucial point is the retrieval and registration of data. For example, when the clinicians check blood pressures, it is often noted on a piece of paper and recorded digitally at a later time. The two nurses have a common wish in this connection:
"Mobility – handheld devices for the individual staff member. Mobility is one of the most vital keys to the continued development of the use of IT in hospitals".
In many places, they have a certain degree of mobility, but the potential is great and there is still some way to go. "If patient data are retrieved via handheld devices, we eliminate some of the intermediate stages that may sometimes be causing errors," Janni Lerche Andersen says. Mobility also allows for quick and real-time recording of data and that will have a positive influence on the number of bed-days for the benefit of the patients and reduce costs at the same time. Janni Lerche Andersen gives an example:
"Sometimes, a sample has been taken and analyzed, but the result is not updated in the database so the patient can be discharged. With a higher degree of mobility combined with a common database, the clinicians will get a complete overview and the patients will stay in the system for a much shorter time. Here, efficient IT would really make a big difference to the patients. It would simply reduce their need for hospitalization".
The IT systems should work for the different departments and specialists and the context they operate within. The information required by the staff in a psychiatric emergency department is much different from the information required for the staff in a cancer clinic.
This is also the case wherein the secretary and the clinician work in different sections of an IT system.
Therefore, adaptation to the departments and specialties is required in order to get an overview and efficient recording and retrieval of data.