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Nurse Educators Reflect on Five-year, $1.5 Million Project to Improve HIT

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By Christina Orlovsky Page, contributor  

October 18, 2012 - Health information technology (HIT) has changed dramatically in the past few years, with new innovations making their way into hospitals and health care educational institutions in an effort to ease practice, increase safety and improve efficiency in the workplace.  In fact, just five years ago, when the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Division of Nursing awarded a five-year, $1.5 million grant to three institutions of higher learning and the National League of Nursing (NLN) to form the Health Information Technology Scholars Project (HITS), few envisioned what the future would hold.

Most just knew that they were on board to bring technology to the forefront and to transform nursing education for the 21st century.

Today, as the HITS project is coming to an end, leaders have the opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the past half-decade and project on what’s to come in the future.

According to Mary Anne Rizzolo, EdD, RN, a member of the HITS core management team, the HITS project did, in fact, achieve its ambitious goal of transforming nursing education.

“We have not revolutionized the entire world, but we have made a good dent,” she said. “Our numbers speak for themselves in just how many people have been involved.”
And the numbers say a lot. At the end of the five-year grant this December, 265 faculty members from schools across the country will have participated. In all, 1,766 faculty members from 921 schools in 49 states and two U.S. territories applied to be a part of the prestigious program, led by the schools of nursing at the University of Kansas, in Kansas City; University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, in Denver; and Indiana University, in Indianapolis.

“It was a very competitive program to begin with,” explained Rizzolo. “HRSA only funded a limited amount of schools in the beginning, and all of the programs had to be collaborative in some way. Over the years, we have all worked together many times, and even though we’re scattered all over the country, it’s been a natural collaboration.”

To participate in the HITS project, scholars had to apply with a project they wanted to accomplish at their school related to four areas of HIT: informatics, simulation, e-learning or telehealth.

“We encouraged them to apply in pairs, because it’s always easier to implement something new if you have a buddy,” she says. “We asked for a letter of support from the dean so we’d know how likely it would be that the project could be accomplished, and we tried to have geographic and program type--associate, bachelor’s and master’s--diversity. That’s how we established our first cohort.”

NLN provided the educational tools to the participants, who learned through Living Books--online, interactive courses that are organized similar to book content--webinars and face-to-face workshops. Throughout five years of cohorts, participants in the HITS project set out to achieve the following goals:

•  Transform teaching and learning in the 21st century, merging informatics, telehealth, simulation and e-learning to create powerful learning environments.
•  Improve nursing education and practice, by developing faculty to integrate IT in curricula to educate future practitioners.
•  Expand infrastructure for clinical learning processes; this would include educating a cadre of well-informed faculty who focus on real-world applications of technologies in their education practices.
•  Optimize patient safety and drive Improvements in healthcare quality; this would include better education for the future workforce in competencies to provide safe, quality and efficient healthcare through the use of technologies.

“In the beginning, the projects were mostly about simulation, but by the end it could be as complex as incorporating an electronic health record into the school’s lab,” Rizzolo said. “One school partnered with the computer science [department] to build them their own EHR, since commercial products can be expensive. Computer science students need projects, too!”

Through the years, projects ran the gamut across the four areas of focus: from Loma Linda University’s pilot of the use of PDAs in their curriculum in 2008, to Ohio University’s use of the virtual social networking environment Second Life to create a simulated patient visit in 2009, to Northwestern State University of Louisiana’s establishment of the Cyber Innovation Center for real-time informatics integration in 2010, to Georgia Perimeter College’s use of iPad/iTouch applications to help ESL students learn medical terminology and clinical information in 2011, to University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s development of an easy-to-use e-learning space for preceptors in 2012.

The full list of HITS projects from 2008-2012 can be found on the HITS website.

“Every project was different,” Rizzolo said. “A lot of our projects worked on giving students experience, helping them understand informatics and why they’re using it – how it’s not just about hands-on experience, but it’s about understanding the underlying concepts. Too few nurses have been involved in designing these systems, and we’ve had too many complaints are about how they’re not easy. We want all nurses to understand informatics as new grads.”

This weekend, October 19-21, Rizzolo will be among the speakers at the 2012 NLN Technology Conference, held in Spokane, Wash. In her presentation, “Celebrating Outcomes of the Health Information Technology Scholars (HITS) Program,” she will highlight the technology champions – the faculty members who seek out cutting-edge ways to prepare future nurses for the technological future of nursing care.

After all, Rizzolo concluded, when it comes to health information technology, “It’s all about keeping up and thinking forward and getting the job done.”



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