Health IT improves patient care in nursing homes

Adopting sophisticated information technology (IT) in nursing homes leads to better patient care, according to a recent study from the University of Missouri published in Nursing Care Quality.

Specifically, adopting health IT has led to significant decreases in urinary tract infections, patient pain and new or worsened pressure ulcers in nursing homes, which have largely been left out of incentive programs to adopt these systems.

University of Missouri researchers collected surveys from 815 U.S. nursing home administrators annually for two years, rating the sophistication of a given facility’s IT. The responses were compared against federal data in Nursing Home Compare and evaluated on whether the technology had positive impacts on quality of care.

Nursing homes with greater IT capabilities had fewer patient reports of moderate to severe pain. In addition, urinary tract infections were decreased with wider use of clinical support technologies, including laboratory systems. Greater technology use also was associated with lower percentages of residents with new or worsened pressure ulcers.

“We already knew that information technology can help create better care outcomes, but this study helped us see which technologies improve which elements of care,” Gregory Alexander, interim associate dean of research and professor of clinical informatics at MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing, said in a statement. “As IT capabilities and extent of IT use improved in nursing homes, we saw an associated decline in urinary tract infections, among other correlations.”

While the association of greater health IT use and better patient care was clear, some nursing homes experienced a loss of technology capabilities between years one and two of the survey. These outliers underscored the challenges nursing homes face when it comes to adopting new health IT, according to Alexander. Generally, health IT use trended up across the surveyed nursing homes.

“Federal incentive funds are going into hospitals and ambulatory care, not nursing homes,” Alexander said. “Many homes don’t have a trained expert to manage the technology, so even if they do decide to upgrade their IT capabilities, they may abandon certain ones because they are too difficult or expensive to manage. If they aren’t being reimbursed for investing in information technology, they may decide it isn’t worth the time and money.”

The research points to a greater need for understanding the implications and use of health IT in long-term care.