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Tilting the Odds

October 28, 2008
by Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief
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CIOs looking to stack the deck in their favor must bring nursing to the table

Last year, when a ruptured aortic aneurysm landed my father in a Las Vegas ICU with little chance for recovery, I learned more about the world of acute-care medicine than I ever wanted. Like many with modest hospital exposure, I always conceived of acute care as similar to ambulatory — physician based. But it was evident during my month in the desert that, in the hospital, nurses run the show.

During August 2007, I spent about eight to nine hours each day bedside, talking with nurses, alerting them when I thought something was wrong and, occasionally, getting three minutes a day with his physicians as they zipped in and out of the room. The nurses, working their 12-hour shifts, were the constant caregivers, always available to him, and me. And while physician orders came through maybe once a day, nursing documentation occurred around the clock. I can remember them well:

  • There was Stanley from Kenya, working the night shift. Stanley was one of the nicest people I have ever met. He constantly encouraged me to keep my chin up, telling me my father was going to get better, get off the ventilator. When my father was put back on it, I was the one who buoyed Stanley, as he seemed more frustrated than me. Stanley often made me laugh, spending extra time in the room when he didn't have to.

  • There was Sheri, a nurse who had received a religious vision in her dream to start up a children's book publishing house. Sheri had gone after the funding and was well on her way to renting a building for its operation. She showed me her company's Web site with pride and gave my father excellent care.

  • There was Rita from the Philippines. After Rita came to America, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Rita worked extra shifts for over a year to pay for her mother's care. Rita had recently gone through a divorce and was then trying to raise her two children in Las Vegas, not exactly a town without temptation.

  • And there was Alice from Oklahoma. Alice had grown up on a farm, and showed me her formidable hands as proof of days spent in the field. Alice was warm and comforting, everything you'd look for in a caregiver.

What do I know about his doctors, you ask? What were their hopes and dreams? Where did they come from and where were they going? Well, I really don't know, as I never got to spend the kind of time with them that I did the nurses. Don't get me wrong, I know this is the way most hospitals work, with doctors doing rounds to direct care and nurses carrying out their orders. The fact that my father recovered — beating the 1 percent chance of survival he was given on admission — is a testament to the skill of his physicians.

What I am saying is that CPOE (computerized physician order entry) should not be the initial goal of your electronic strategy, as it leaves the largest part of documentation off the table. Perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle in creating the electronic patient record is nursing documentation. In fact, going with a nursing documentation-first strategy will make your nurses that much stronger when it's time for CPOE. And though no one wants nurses to actually put orders in for the docs, rolling out nursing documentation first ensures they will be ready to teach.

As Mark Hagland reveals in our cover story this month, nurses are the key constituency to finding success with any IT rollout in the hospital. With this in mind, it's critical to appreciate just how important it is to involve nursing in any product selections, rollouts and follow-up evaluations. A nurse's voice is sometimes the sweetest sound a patient or family member can hear, and CIOs who seek it out dramatically increase their chances of success.

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief
Healthcare Informatics 2008 November;25(11):8