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Opinion: Nothing to fear

Electronic charting, reporting errors improve patient care

Monday August 8, 2011
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You don’t have to have been in nursing long to remember what it was like when everything we communicated to one another about patient care, from lab slips and physician orders to care plans and discharge instructions, was done with paper and pen. We complained about “drowning in paper,” and staying late to “finish charting,” all the while recognizing something had to be done about the inconsistency, subjectivity and danger of mistakes inherent in paper-based systems.

Now, more and more hospitals are moving to paperless patient-charting systems that allow their healthcare teams increased access, speed and clarity in sharing information. When used properly, such systems can be more secure, accurate and cost-effective than the old way.

It’s often said change doesn’t come easy for most of us, but where paperless documentation and nurses are concerned, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Recognizing that nurses are integral to the success of setting up and maintaining such systems, facilities are supporting the costs of educating and training them on these new systems. With the average age of these nurse “students” in their mid-40s, and many having little computer experience, it can be daunting. There are computer classes to attend, and IT consultants and trainers with whom to work.

But as more of us have started down the electronic healthcare record road in the past decade, many nurses are learning to embrace the change. They are eagerly joining the journey, some even moving into special training positions or leadership roles in informatics.

At Nurse.com, you’ll read about the apprehensions and achievements of nursing leaders and their staffs as their facilities make the move to paperless systems. They know there are challenges on the learning curve, but they are determined to be part of this movement crucial to safe patient care.

Also, we discuss the challenge of making nurses and other staff comfortable with reporting errors. Many nurses still seem fearful that doing so will cause their careers irreparable harm. It’s a fear that is deeply rooted in history and has been difficult for nurse administrators and facilities to eradicate despite the current mindset that creating a culture of safety for both patients and staff is integral to a quality healthcare environment.

But challenges are meant to be faced and conquered. That said, facilities across the country are making it a priority to replace the fear with confidence that reporting an error can result in system changes that will be beneficial to all.


Eileen Williamson, RN, MSN, is senior vice president of nursing communications & initiatives for Gannett Healthcare Group. Post a comment below or e-mail specialty@nurse.com.