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School of Nursing, VMASC Team Up to Tackle Issues With Electronic Records

A grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will help Old Dominion University's School of Nursing teach undergraduate nursing students the fundamentals they need to use electronic health records, no matter where they eventually work.

A plan announced by former President George W. Bush and kept in place by President Barack Obama mandates that hospitals and clinics move toward electronic record keeping.

The goal is to make it easier to share health information between providers.

Karen Karlowicz, associate professor of nursing at Old Dominion, said helping students gain comfort and competence in the us e of electronic records hasn't been easy.

"Theoretically, e-health records systems are designed to minimize the time spent on documentation," she said. "But, unfamiliarity with electronic record keeping increases the time required for proper documentation. The systems are confusing. Everything involves clicking boxes to chart by exception; inexperience with the process can be a hindrance and sometimes information doesn't get communicated."

To bridge that gap, the School of Nursing has received a three-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of DHHS.

The grant will enable the nursing school to partner with ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC), Center for Learning Technologies (CLT) and Office of Computing and Communications Services (OCCS) to develop the technology to teach students critical skills for electronic documentation.

The grant is broken into two components. The School of Nursing's virtual hospital, Monarch General, will receive a series of avatars, or virtual patients, created and designed by nursing faculty and VMASC engineers.

"Informatics (including computer and information literacy) has been identified as a core competency needed by entry level nurses to function effectively in today's technology-rich health care environments," Karlowicz wrote in the grant application to HRSA.

She said the new programs will offer nursing students the opportunity to practice assessing virtual patients, and learn the fundamentals of synthesizing information to include in electronic records.

"Currently, the issue is that students can't fully access electronic records in hospitals and clinics to practice documentation skills. So, the creation of this technology offers that opportunity," Karlowicz explained.

The grant also provides funding to allow graduate nurse educator students to gain experience using the new instructional techniques for teaching nursing students about electronic records. As a result, new graduates will be able to step into any clinic and know the basics of electronic documentation.

"This grant is important because all of the area hospitals are using different systems for e-health records," Karlowicz said. "The grant will help us develop instructional technology that utilizes the features of the different electronic record-keeping systems in use today."

John Sokolowski, acting director of VMASC, said the grant is indicative of the type of research VMASC is attempting to incorporate into its core mandate - multidisciplinary simulations that involve faculty across disciplines.

"We will be developing and upgrading the virtual hospital environment so that the nursing students have a more robust computer-generated hospital in which to interact," Sokolowski said.

"This is a good project because it utilizes VMASC's skill for developing new and innovative virtual environments applied to the medical and health care field."

OCCS will create the computer interface to allow the programs to work. CLT will assist in developing tutorials that will enable local and distance students to use products developed by this grant, and provide faculty with a desktop resource to integrate into their courses.

The three-year grant runs from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2012.

Karlowicz hopes that the research ODU does in electronic records - something being done at very few schools in the United States currently - could yield techniques and practices that could make the rollout of electronic records across the country go more smoothly.

This article was posted on: August 3, 2009

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