02.04 Technology & Informatics

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Hi guys. Welcome to the Technology and Informatics lesson. I’m sure everyone has seen or at least heard of electronic medical records in the hospital setting, but most people don’t know that this kind of technology and others are used in the community as well. In this lesson, we will explore the advances in technology that contribute to community health and discuss its impact as well. Let’s dive in. 

So health informatics is an umbrella term we use for a multidisciplinary approach to combine  information technology systems and healthcare. We know what health means. Informatics is just a formal way to combine engineering, data processing and storage. Now, multidisciplinary means there’s lots of different chefs in the kitchen working together to create systems that help us provide the best care for our patients and that can include computer science, behavioral science, and medicine, just to name a few. So we use health informatics in different ways, which is why I say it’s an umbrella term. It can be used for electronic management of patient health information, research and as a communication system. Patient health information is organized and analyzed using informatics. That’s where we get our electronic medical records from. In research, it’s used to monitor trends for prevention of diseases and epidemics, and it serves as a more efficient way to collect and store data than using pen and paper. Now as for communication, think about e-prescriptions, electronic dictation, telehealth, which we will discuss, and things of that nature. And just like most things, health informatics is always evolving. We are always looking for ways to improve how we provide care and information to the community.

So I mentioned EMRs earlier. When we talk about health technology this is a part of that. EMR is an electronic medical record and is used interchangeably with EHR, electronic health record. What this does is track patient care from hospitals to nursing homes. We also use it in the community as well. Visiting nurses use EMRs to keep track of patient medications, previous hospital stays and home visits as well. EMRs are great resources for community nurses because like I said it follows the patient so we are able to see anything that has happened medically in between visits and we aren’t necessarily having to rely on the patient to remember everything. This helps with continuity of care which improves the quality of care we provide our patients simply because we can review the information and be prepared before we hit the home so we can focus on the present. Now, remember I said this is always changing. We are still looking for a balance between real time charting and adequate face time between client and clinician. This happens in the community as well.

Fun fact here as we are discussing EMRs, there are all sorts of apps for your phone now where patients can keep track of their own health history. I’ve had several clients tell me all about them and they’re super-efficient down to notifications of upcoming appointments, emergency contacts, doctor information, and so on. The information can even be synched from patient to clinician. We also have electronic pill dispensers for people who can’t remember to take their medications. You simply set the time you’re scheduled to take the medication, and get a voice reminder, or they can dispense it for you at that time. So now we are minimizing medication errors at home which also minimizes hospitalizations. Crazy, right? I have a family member with a defibrillator implanted. Every now and again she has to do EKG monitors overnight and guys she can do it from home while she sleeps! All the information goes straight to her doctor’s office and they call her to review the results! Now, somewhere in the tech world, someone thought it was a good idea to create personal devices in addition to the apps, so we’ve seen Fitbits and other health trackers hit the market recently. The FDA just recently okayed a watch that tracks your blood pressure too.

So telehealth is also pretty cool and it’s gotten really popular over the last few years. It’s a virtual way to provide healthcare to a person at home. It can be by phone or some video presence all depending on the patient’s needs. This is especially helpful for someone who doesn’t have the means to get to the doctor office regularly or there isn’t one nearby. By no means is it to be used for emergency situations, but for questions, follow up care and instructions, consultations, regular health maintenance, it’s very useful. And it’s a great person-centered approach when you think about it because we are accommodating possible patient barriers to care, needs and abilities.  So what you’re seeing in this picture is a blood pressure monitor that sends information to your doctor. The best part about these devices is that they don’t take up a lot of space and their looks haven’t changed so much that they’ve become too hard to use.

So what are the benefits of all this technology to community health? For one, it provides continuity of care because of things like EMRs. It improves care and patient outcomes. It reduces healthcare costs because it decreases unnecessary hospitalizations. Remember we just talked about med errors. That’s big among elderly patients and people who take a lot of medications and it’s a major safety hazard. Now it also decreases clinician errors as well. There was a time where everything was pen and paper and it was really easy to misread an order because the handwriting wasn’t clear or something like that. I’m not saying errors don’t happen, but they are definitely less. Now, we’ve discussed empowerment before and here it is again. With all these advances, we really are empowering and encouraging people to take control of their health by giving them the tools they need to monitor their health adequately. Look at the Fitbit and how that took off. Exercising has become a competition for some people because they are able to track it better. Let’s review now. EMRs help us to improve continuity of care because your patient’s information follows them everywhere and is being updated all the time. Telehealth is very much patient-centered. It helps us get around some of those barriers a patient may have getting care. Finally, we talked about several benefits but the biggest impact to community health is the empowerment and encouragement we bring to members of the community to take control of their health and we assist.

So that’s all for technology and informatics. Make sure you check out all of the resources attached to this lesson. Now, go out and be your best self today! And, as always, happy nursing!    

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