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Study: Informatics Tools Underutilized in Prevention of Hospital-Acquired Infections

February 20, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Advances in electronic medical record (EMR) systems and health information exchange (HIE) are shifting efforts in public health toward greater use of information systems to automate disease surveillance, but a study from the Indianapolis-based informatics and healthcare research organization Regenstrief Institute has found that these technologies' capabilities are underutilized by those on the front lines of preventing and reporting infections.

The new study measured the awareness, adoption and use of EMR systems and health information exchange by hospital-based infection preventionists (formerly known as infection control professionals) to report and share information critical to public health. Infection preventionists are often responsible for reporting information on patients diagnosed with health-care-acquired infections like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, as well as sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia.

To measure awareness and engagement in EMR and HIE activities, an online survey of infection preventionists was conducted in states with HIE networks. A total of 63 infection preventionists were invited to participate; 44 (69 percent) responded. The survey asked about the adoption and use of EMR systems, participation in regional HIE initiatives, and infection preventionist needs with respect to EMR systems and public health reporting.

While 70 percent of infection preventionists surveyed reported access to an EMR system, less than 20 percent were involved in the design, selection or implementation of the system. Without such involvement, those surveyed indicated the information systems often did not include modules or components that supported infection control activities. 

Prior research has shown that health information exchange can increase the completeness and timeliness of infection reporting to local and state health agencies. In this study, the researchers found that half of the infection preventionists surveyed were unaware of whether their hospital or health system participated in a health information exchange. Only 10 percent of infection preventionists indicated that their organizations were formally engaged in health information exchange activities. 

There is a push from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to reduce hospital-acquired infections and increase the use of electronic health record systems,” Brian Dixon, Ph.D., Regenstrief Institute investigator and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are encouraging local and state health departments to use health information technologies to improve infectious disease reporting and prevention activities. We found that 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.”

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