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Informatics Tools Underused to Fight Hospital Infections

MRSA bacteria (CDC)

Scanning electron micrograph image of MRSA bacteria (Janice Haney Carr, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Researchers at the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis report relatively few professionals responsible for controlling hospital-based infections are engaged in or even aware of automated systems designed to share data about these infections. The findings of the survey led by Regenstrief’s Brian Dixon, with colleagues from Indiana University medical school (affiliated with Regenstrief Institute), and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs) appear online in the American Journal of Infection Control; paid subscription required.

Dixon and colleagues conducted an online survey of infection preventionists — professional staff responsible for controlling hospital infections such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA — on their involvement with electronic medical record systems and health information exchanges. Electronic medical records store individual patient data, while health information exchanges report incidences of conditions, such as hospital-based infections and sexually transmitted diseases, to public health agencies.

The team conducted the survey in states with health information exchange networks, and recruited 44 participants from a group of 63 infection preventionists invited to take part. The results show a large majority (70%) of infection preventionists have access to electronic health records in their hospitals, but less than 20 percent of those with access report being involved in the systems’ design, acquisition, or implementation. As a result, those surveyed indicate their health record systems often did not include modules that supported infection control activities.

The results show use and awareness of health infornation exchanges by these professionals is also far from universal. About half (49%) of the respondents report not being cognizant of their hospitals’ involvement with health information exchanges, and only one in 10 (10%) could say if their institutions were formally engaged with these networks.

Dixon points out the lack of consultation on system design contributes to the underuse of these systems. He notes while “hospital-based infection preventionists — the people on the front line — may have access to health information technology, they lack specially designed computer tools needed to sift through the massive amounts of data in electronic medical records.” At the same time, says Dixon, the infection experts “want electronic alerts and reminders when the system detects something of potential importance. There needs to be concerted R&D to meet this gap in decision support.”

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