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Posted 10.10.05

New Technology Could Make Nursing Home Patients Safer

COLUMBIA, MO -- The Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Aging predicts that people over the age of 65 will comprise 20 percent of the U.S. population by the year 2030. To prepare for this population boom, the nation's nursing homes are turning to new technology to help staff members manage and meet the needs of residents. A researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia is conducting a study to determine how these technologies can help reduce the number of medication administration errors, such as wrong dose or prescription errors, in nursing home facilities.

Jill Scott-Cawiezell, an assistant professor of nursing at MU, is studying how to improve patient safety by implementing new electronic medication administration (eMAR) devices in five nursing homes in three states. She believes that better technology will reduce medication administration error rates in these facilities by improving communication, reducing competing demands and eliminating paper-based medical records.

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"In nursing homes, employees are often less experienced but have competing demands with more medications for more patients," Scott-Cawiezell said. "A lot of error comes down to time, but technology can streamline the medication administration process and reduce it by several steps."

In the paper-based medication administration record system, one paper copy of a medical record must last 30 days and changes hands and information several times as it is passed among physicians, pharmacists and nursing home healthcare providers. According to Scott-Cawiezell, the electronic medical administration record is crisp, clean and clear. A touch-screen monitor attached to a medicine cart organizes medicines by patient and administration time and provides an opportunity for nursing home staff to double check the system before administration.

Prior to implementing the new technology, Scott-Cawiezell conducted on-site focus groups and interviews to develop a better understanding of the job challenges and frustrations faced by nursing home healthcare providers. With one year left in the two-year study, she meets monthly with an interdisciplinary team of staff members for updates on how employees from each nursing home are embracing the technology and to discuss problems associated with its operation.

"We have an ongoing presence and arrange conference calls so the facilities can learn from one another," Scott-Cawiezell said. "It's important to take collective wisdom and feedback to make continuous quality improvements."



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