When lives are on the line, good information management practices are vital
The ease and speed of information access has very real consequences for patient welfare. A lack of information access leads to poorer decision-making and less satisfactory clinical outcomes. Healthcare facilities need an information management system that makes both hard and soft data available on demand.
There are a number of impediments to this. The first is the organisation of paper records. Many institutions are loath to discard patient information even after meeting their retention obligations. The risk of not having vital files on hand is too high. However, the practice of infinite retention can result in bloated archives with chaotic indexing systems that render information impossible to locate.
In a study released by the IDC in 2012, Melissa Webster found that “workers who handled paper documents spent 7% of their workweek dealing with problems and time-consuming tasks unique to hard copies. When taking into account the time spent searching for documents that were never found, the figure rose to 11.6%. If those documents then had to be re-created, this took the total amount of wasted time to 15.6% of the workweek.
While this is a problem in all industries with paper-based workflows, in healthcare it has the potential to adversely affect patient welfare. A 2013 report conducted by Edith Cowan University on information-induced medication errors found that “the timely availability of medication history was an aspect in [many error events], and thus improvement in the accuracy and availability of medication history may be a key factor reducing errors.”
The study also recommended that written and verbal medication orders be replaced by electronic orders to improve the quality of communications between doctors and nurses. John Reynard and Peter Stevenson, authors of Practical Patient Safety, concur: “That doctors’ handwriting is often illegible has long been the source of amusement but sadly poor writing, inappropriate abbreviations, and sloppy practice still results in significant error on a daily basis. Electronic prescribing eliminates problems due to illegibility… There is no defense for poor handwriting that introduces doubt or error into the prescribing process.”
Where appropriate, electronic interfaces can dramatically improve the accuracy and availability of shared information, but digital record systems also suffer from access issues. The WA Health Information Management Strategy 2017–2021 report notes that “inequity in information access… [results] from fragmented and mismatched ICT systems which often do not communicate or integrate.” According to the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, this causes patients to bounce “between multiple specialists and hospitals… having endless diagnostic tests as each health professional works on a particular ‘body part’ rather than treating the whole person.”
The health sector is in need of information management solutions that make existing hard-copy processes easier while removing their pitfalls, and solutions that facilitate the proper integration of digital systems.
Good information management companies deliver solutions faster, and with greater frequency. They are similarly speed-conscious when it comes to making their systems easy for healthcare clients to access and utilise, automating much of the document retrieval and management process. Interfaces are intuitive, customisable and responsive, with indexing that integrates seamlessly with existing system conventions. Additionally, the high-tier systems provided by professional information management companies ensure that digital data can be accessed and shared across a wide range of devices.
Enhanced data accessibility has a direct affect on the quality of patient care. More informed decisions are made, resulting in better clinical outcomes across the board. Consolidated records with an intuitive access and retrieval system also eliminate confusion over where to find records. An authorised individual simply makes a request, and documents are delivered physically or digitally on the same day. The best information management companies provide a range of options — from a standard twice-daily service to urgent delivery in under three hours.
For digitised data, healthcare staff will find themselves with the ability to access and update a single point of truth through any device. Not only does this reduce the risk of communication errors, but it eliminates the logistical challenges of sending information to different locations.
 Webster, M., “Bridging the Information Worker Productivity Gap: New Challenges and Opportunities for IT” at [http://www.idc.com] (September 2012). p. 8, Table 2.
 Reynard, J. & Stevenson, P., Practical Patient Safety, OUP Oxford (2009), p. 39.