nurse at computer

When it comes to communicating electronically with external clinical partners, most nursing homes are not yet up to speed, according to new survey results. This lag in capabilities may affect resident care, researchers say.

Investigators from the Columbia University School of Nursing rated the level of adoption — or “maturity” — of health information technology (HIT) across a sample of 719 facilities. Participants were randomly recruited from all 50 states and Washington DC using Nursing Home Compare data. 

Participants responded to a validated HIT maturity survey consisting of nine subscales. These included HIT capabilities, extent of HIT use and degree of HIT integration in resident care, clinical support and administrative activities. Each facility’s HIT maturity stage was rated from 0 (no HIT) to 6 (residents or their caregivers could use the system to generate clinical data and drive self-management). 

Lack of connectivity

Fully 68% of the facilities were not able to communicate electronically with staff from other facilities, including outside clinics, laboratories or pharmacies (HIT maturity stage 3 or lower), Patricia W. Stone, PhD, RN, and colleagues reported.  

The results also uncovered factors tied to these disparities. HIT maturity levels were more likely to be higher in larger nursing homes. And the number of certified beds and facility location were significantly associated with HIT maturity stage. Ownership, chain status and occupancy rate were not.

These differences may be due to inadequate infrastructures, availability of a knowledgeable workforce or lack of financial resources, the researchers theorized. In any case, the resulting gaps in electronic connection with external partners may have a significant negative impact on resident care and operational capabilities, they said.

“This lack of connectivity can result in reduced levels of electronic data sharing, leading to deficiencies in care delivery, substandard care coordination activities and poorer resident outcomes,” the authors noted.

Incentivize HIT adoption

The researchers, including principal investigator Gregory L. Alexander, PhD, RN, encouraged nursing home leaders to promote equal opportunities across healthcare services to “incentivize and enhance HIT adoption to balance structural disparities and improve resident outcomes.” 

“It is crucial that we begin to consistently identify a means to address these disparities, first by increasing transparency and public reporting about the trends in nursing home HIT maturity in the United States, followed by implementing national policies to level these deficits,” Alexander and team concluded.

Notably, smaller facilities were more highly represented in the study sample than in the national nursing home population.

The study was published in the journal JMIR Aging.