Archive for the ‘Health information technology (HIT)’ Category


A Tech-Savvy Nurse’s Initial Take on Uses for the Apple Watch

August 5, 2015

Megen Duffy, RN, BSN, CEN, is currently working in hospice case management and writes AJN‘s iNurse column, which focuses on technology and nursing.

AppleWatchMegenPhotoBPMI’ve had my Apple Watch for several months now. I ordered it at 12:01 the morning they went on sale, and it arrived the Saturday after its Friday release. I was fairly certain I’d return it or sell it for a profit, but I still have it and keep finding new uses for it. I also have ideas for how it could be handy for a variety of fitness and health care scenarios.

Health tracking. Even at this early stage, though, patients and their families are using Apple Watches to track and enhance their health. The Watch tracks your heartbeat—not every second, but often enough that a useful bank of data results. Rumors say that a mystery port on the back of the watch will allow SpO2 tracking soon. I have already busted out my phone to show my cardiologist my heart rate trends, and it saved me from wearing a Holter monitor. That kind of thing is exciting!

Fitness wearables (e.g., Fitbit) and smart watches (e.g., Pebble) have been around for a few years, with sharply increasing popularity. The (often) colored plastic bands people wear around their wrists are the kind of wearable I mean. Pedometers (included in the wearables category) also come in small clips that attach to pockets or bras, but those typically have fewer features than are relevant medically. These bracelets/watches track some or all of the following: steps taken, calories burned, distance covered, heart rate, and weight.

Wearables have ways of nudging people along in their fitness goals. They tap, send inspirational messages, and even post movement statistics on social media.

Peer pressure works, even in adults. Reaching the daily step goal becomes oddly alluring. Americans are sedentary people, and we like our gadgets and video games. Gamifying fitness could be a winning strategy for getting people up off the couch—both nurses and patients. It is not unusual to see bands of roving nurses in hospitals, walking the halls on break to get their steps in. Every little bit helps.

So far, the Apple Watch does not have any third-party applications, and, though it can do a number of things on its own, its main users for now will be those who already have late-model iPhones (which can pair with the Apple Watch to share data and some functionality). Other devices, such as the Pebble, have a huge library of third-party applications, but they still require proximity to a cell phone. Fitbits do not allow software installation.

Apps for medication tracking, etc., with more likely to come. The Watch has a number of applications that integrate usefully with iPhone applications. Patients and caregivers will have another option for keeping track of medications and treatments because of this integration. An application on your wrist saying “it’s time for your Cardizem” is much more insistent than a phone alarm, for example. An update to the Watch operating system is supposed to occur this fall, and I am excited about what developers will have come up with. Wouldn’t it be fantastic, for example, to have a CPR application on your watch that taps your wrist at the appropriate tempo?

Read the rest of this entry ?


Never Too Late: One Family Practice’s Shift to EHRs after 50 Years of Paper

April 16, 2015

Editor’s note: We hear a lot about the stress and lack of time for direct patient care that nurses (and physicians) have experienced with the movement to EMRs or EHRs. We’re in a transitional period, and in some instances the use and design of these systems has a long ways to go. But here’s a story with a positive slant, written by someone who might easily have responded very differently, given the circumstances. Change is inevitable; how we react to it throughout our lives, less so. 

By Marilyn Kiesling Howard, ARNP

Niklas Bildhauer/ Wikimedia Commons

Niklas Bildhauer/ Wikimedia Commons

I am a nurse practitioner and my husband of 60 years is a family practitioner. We still work full time in our Gulf Breeze, Florida, practice. About five years ago, we first learned that our paper records were becoming archaic and that Medicare was planning to penalize providers who didn’t switch to the use of electronic health records (EHRs) by a certain date.

It was terrible news—we had 50 years of work in the paper chart genre, and were unsure about how to make the transition. Some who were in our position took the pending requirements as an opportunity to retire, but we weren’t ready for that.

Embracing a predigital innovation. In the 1960s, we started a small family practice in Indiana. As we requested our patients’ records from the files of their most recent physicians, it was not unusual to receive an index card that had the date neatly stamped on the left edge, with a handwritten note on the same line. (Needless to say, we’d already gone upscale, with a folder for each patient and a piece of white note paper.)

We quickly found that the medical record was our link to the prospective health of our patients, so we explored how we might make our records more useful. Joe read about a clinic in Bangor, Maine, where physicians were implementing the problem-oriented medical record (POMR) developed by Dr. Larry Weed, so we flew there to learn about this innovation. Dr. Bjorn and Dr. Cross were still developing their application of the model; their favorite medical secretary was a ‘bored bright housewife,’ and the entire clinic had an aura of excitement and discovery.

When we returned home, we quickly converted our folders to a proper chart with the ‘problem list’ fastened on the left and the progress notes on the right, using the new methodology. As we treated our new patients, we dutifully produced the ‘subjective, objective, assessment, and plan’ (SOAP) model we’d also imported from Maine.

This method sufficed for all the years between the first enlightenment and our leap in May 2011 into the world of pixels. It’s a challenge to get up and running with an EHR system. It was as if we were starting a new office with 2,000 patients to enroll. We had to had to translate and enter all of their old information into the new charting system. Two of our staff did not have computer knowledge and could not type. We went to half production, and our lost revenue was felt for months afterwards. (‘Meaningful use’ rules reimbursed us for about one-half of what the transition cost us.)

We’d decided on a cloud-based system because it was easy to access and the records would be safely stored on a server in Maine, an extra plus due to our propensity for hurricanes in the Florida Panhandle. The program was extremely user friendly. Given our level of expertise, this was a necessity. We took lessons online; the training included a live operator who was willing to stay on the line until the information was understood and applied. The company that runs the system keeps us compliant with meaningful use requirements and lets us know of impending changes.

We have, since we started using it at our clinic, found the EHR so far superior to our handwritten method that it would be impossible for us to return to the scribbled messes, as we see our old charts now. We still refer to them to garner important items such as consults, colonoscopies, surgeries, etc. Those reports are then neatly bar-coded into the EHR. It is no longer necessary to weed, retire, or store the charts. We did not abstract the old charts, simply moved important reports from them. We keep them in our office for quick historical reference. Read the rest of this entry ?


Missed Empathy, Missed Care: Is It Time to ‘Reconceptualize Efficiency’?

March 23, 2015

A physician’s lament is nursing’s, too.

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

By Alan Cleaver/via Flickr

By Alan Cleaver/via Flickr

Last week, the New York Times Well blog published “The Importance of Sitting With Patients” by Dhruv Khullar, a Harvard medical resident. Khullar expressed regret over not spending more time with a patient who was near death, and then discussed how little time residents actually spend with patients—eight minutes, according to a Journal of General Internal Medicine study (2013) that analyzed the time of 29 interns over a month. (The study found that only 12% of the residents’ time was spent on direct patient care; 40% of their time was spent on computers.)

Khullar detailed the various activities that take him away from direct patient contact and noted as well that the shorter working hours mandated for residents had the unintended consequence of reducing time with patients. He wondered:

By squeezing the same clinical and administrative work into fewer hours, do we inadvertently encourage completion of activities essential in the operational sense at the expense of activities essential in the human sense?

The second part of the question seemed especially pertinent for nurses. Hospital nurses have long lamented that paperwork, insufficient staffing, and nonnursing tasks keep them from the bedside. The promise of computers to reduce documentation time has yet to be realized, as first-generation documentation systems are not necessarily designed from a nursing perspective and often lack the specificity and flexibility to truly capture nursing activities. Read the rest of this entry ?


Color-Coded Wristbands and Patient DNR Status: Can We Do Better?

March 16, 2015

In the Viewpoint column in the March issue of AJN, a staff nurse at an oncology center argues that we can improve our use of color-coded wristbands to communicate patient DNR status. There’s also a short podcast interview with the author below, in which she explains that her motivation for writing this article was “a near-miss” on her unit several years ago.

A lot of attention has been paid lately to the reasons why clinicians don’t follow end-of-life preferences in advance directives. Overaggressive care by some physicians is one reason, as is the vagueness of the language used in advance directives to express treatment preferences.


Author Blima Marcus

Another major reason advance directives are ignored is lack of immediate access to a patient’s end-of-life preferences at critical moments, such as during a code. This month’s Viewpoint column, “Communicating Patient DNR Status Using Color-Coded Wristbands,” is by Blima Marcus, a doctoral student at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing in New York City as well as an RN at the NYU Langone–Perlmutter Cancer Center. Marcus points out that a “patient’s choice of do-not-resuscitate (DNR) status is a major one, and communicating this status in the hospital is often the responsibility of nurses.”

However, she argues, paper and/or electronic chart documentation of patient end-of-life preferences isn’t always adequate, given clinical realities, and can leave “communication gaps that can lead to wrongful resuscitations and mistaken fatalities.” Read the rest of this entry ?


Health Technology Hazards, 2015: Alarm Issues Still Lead ECRI Top 10

January 12, 2015
hazard/jasleen kaur, via Flickr

hazard/jasleen kaur, via Flickr

It’s a new year, and the ECRI Institute has released its Top 10 Health Technology Hazards for 2015 report, highlighting new health technology hazards (and some older, persistent ones) for health care facilities and nurses to keep in mind.

Alarm hazards still posed the greatest risk, topping the list at number one for the fourth year running. But this year, the report focused on different solutions. Often, according to the report, strategies for reducing alarm hazards focus on alarm fatigue—a hazard nurses have long battled. Now, the report recommends that health care facilities examine alarm configuration policies and practices for completeness and clinical relevance. These practices include:

  • determining which alarms should be enabled.
  • selecting alarm limits to use.
  • establishing the default alarm priority level.
  • setting alarm volumes.

Repeat hazards that made the list included inadequate reprocessing of endoscopes and surgical instruments (#4), robotic surgery complications due to insufficient training (#8), and, in at #2, data integrity issues such as incorrect or missing data in electronic health records and other health IT systems. For an overview of these hazards, see our posts on ECRI top 10 health technology hazards from 2013 and 2014.

And here’s an overview of new hazards that made the cut, along with some of the report’s suggestions on how to prevent them. Read the rest of this entry ?


Nurse Informaticists Address Texas Ebola Case, EHR Design Questions

October 17, 2014

By Susan McBride, PhD, RN-BC, CPHIMS, professor and program director of the Masters in Nursing Informatics Program, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and Mari Tietze, PhD, RN-BC, FHIMSS, associate professor and director, Interprofessional Health IT Program at Texas Woman’s University (TWU). The views expressed are those of the authors and don’t represent those of Texas Tech or TWU.


EHRs: information ‘siloes’ or interprofessional collaboration?

The recent Ebola case in Dallas—in which a patient was admitted to the hospital three days after he visited the ER exhibiting symptoms associated with Ebola and reporting that he’d recently traveled from West Africa—brought this global public health story close to home for many of us residing in the area. As has been widely reported, the patient died last week after nearly 10 days in the hospital.

An initial focus of media coverage was the suggestion that a failure of nursing communication had contributed to the release of the patient from the hospital on his first visit. Partly reflecting evolving explanations offered by the hospital, the media focus then shifted to a potential flaw in the hospital’s electronic health record (EHR) system, in which information recorded by a nurse about the patient’s travel history might not have been visible to physicians as well. Read the rest of this entry ?


Addressing Nurses’ Urgent Concerns About Ebola and Protective Equipment

October 15, 2014

By Betsy Todd, MPH, RN, CIC, AJN clinical editor. (See also her earlier post, “Ebola: A Nurse Epidemiologist Puts the Outbreak in Perspective.”)

This is not a time to panic. It is a time to get things right.—John Nichols, blogging for the Nation, 10/12/2014

Scanning electron micrograph of filamentous Ebola virus particles budding from an infected VERO E6 cell (35,000x magnification). Credit: NIAID

Scanning electron micrograph of filamentous Ebola virus particles budding from an infected VERO E6 cell (35,000x magnification). Credit: NIAID

For years, nurses have tolerated increasingly cheap, poorly made protective gear—one result of health care’s “race to the bottom” cost-cutting. Now the safety of personal protective equipment (PPE) is being hotly debated as the Ebola epidemic spills over into the U.S.

If all nurses had access to impermeable gowns that extended well below the knee (and could be securely closed in back, had real cuffs, and didn’t tear easily); faceguards that completely shielded; N95 respirator masks that could be properly molded to the face; and disposable leg and shoe covers, we might not be having the same conversation. Yet how much protection can we count on from the garb we now have available, especially considering the minimal donning and doffing training given to most nurses?

While there is more to be learned about possible “outlier” modes of Ebola transmission, it’s pretty clear from past experience (including recent Ebola hospitalizations at Emory University Hospital and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where no transmission has occurred) that standard, contact, and droplet precautions will virtually always prevent Ebola virus transmission. Because of the theoretical possibility that the virus could be aerosolized during procedures like intubation or suctioning, airborne precautions are usually added. (And from what we’ve seen, they’re being followed routinely, and not used only during aerosolizing procedures.)

Many organizations, including National Nurses United, are calling for hazmat-type gear and PAPR hoods (powered air-purifying respirators, which are HEPA-filtered) for staff who care for Ebola patients. Because most nurses have not used these, this more complex gear presents new challenges, especially because of the potential for self-contamination when worn and removed by untrained staff.

Specific techniques for donning and doffing PPE are not new, but many nurses have never been taught to pay attention to these details. One has only to look at staff in a contact precautions room, only half covered by their untied gowns, to understand why resistant organisms continue to spread within hospitals. Many clinicians may not have believed that their cavalier attitude towards PPE had anything to do with the next patient’s nosocomial MRSA pneumonia. During this Ebola epidemic, though, we are quickly learning that the proper use of PPE is a matter of life and death—ours. Read the rest of this entry ?


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