Note: This article was originally published in October 2016. It was expanded and updated with new information in October 2021.
Over 332 million people currently live in the United States, according to the most recent Census estimates. While it’s not likely that every single one of those people use the nation’s healthcare system, a large portion does: an estimated 91 percent of the population is covered by health insurance.
Now, consider the amount of knowledge and expertise required to treat each individual patient’s unique symptoms. And that’s just the beginning: To care for patients effectively, healthcare providers and staff must be able to share not only clinical knowledge, but knowledge around organizational processes and procedures and current drug and treatment information. To make it even more challenging, that information can change by the day. The medical field constantly evolves as new research is released and new treatments are discovered.
It’s clear that healthcare is a knowledge-driven industry. A healthcare knowledge management system can create a more efficient flow of information between all your providers and staff, which can ultimately lead to increased efficiency and productivity. Below, we explore five reasons why adopting a healthcare knowledge management solution is crucial to providing the best possible patient care and experience.
Benefits of Knowledge Management in Healthcare
While traditional knowledge management frameworks emerged from the business world, modern knowledge management—the practice of harnessing and building upon a core set of knowledge to enable groups and individuals to do their best work—has become crucial in the healthcare industry.
It can turn information overload into educated and empowered decision-making.
Healthcare professionals are experiencing a paradox similar to that of other industries in the age of data and technology: they are constantly overwhelmed with new knowledge, but struggle to find the actionable information they need in the moment they need it.
In the healthcare industry, the right information can quite literally save lives—but only if professionals have the ability to quickly access it from anywhere, at anytime. However, doctors still largely base their decisions (e.g., “Is surgery the next step?” “Is this a matter of urgency?” “What medication should be prescribed?” etc.) on personal knowledge and experiences, as well as the limited patient information available to them on a clipboard or screen.
This comes as no surprise in a system where doctors see up to 40 patients per day. There is rarely time within individual appointments to track down and consult other doctors, who are most likely busy with their own patients. Consider this scenario: a patient comes to his or her primary care provider experiencing symptoms that have the doctor perplexed. More than likely, the doctor will make a (highly) educated guess as to what the sickness may be, and create a treatment plan or write a prescription based on this assumption.
But what if the provider not only had access to their own wealth of knowledge regarding symptoms, but the knowledge of every other medical professional in the hospital, all within the 20 minutes they have with their patient? It’s very likely that another doctor has seen this set of symptoms in a patient and has some valuable suggestions as to what steps to take next. With that information, the doctor could make a more accurate diagnosis and recommend a more effective treatment plan.
An advanced and meticulously organized healthcare knowledge management solution can enable doctors to immediately search for and identify symptoms, procedures, and other valuable information that could forever change the lives of patients for the better.
It helps practitioners avoid medical malpractice.
As hospitals continue to consolidate staff, medical malpractice is on the rise. As staff leave or are laid off, their knowledge of procedures and current best practices leave with them, which can result in a higher frequency of mistakes.
When it comes to professional errors, the stakes are simply higher in the healthcare industry. Consider an employee in a standard corporate setting: if he sleeps through an 8 a.m. meeting, he may face little to no consequences. Yes, he may be reprimanded, and if the incident points to a pattern of irresponsible behavior, he may even be fired. But he will not be sued, and no one will be physically harmed.
This is not necessarily the case in healthcare. It’s possible that a mistake may not have serious consequences, but it is also possible that a mistake may result in a tragedy or multi-million-dollar lawsuit. Most healthcare professionals would rather not take the risk.
Healthcare knowledge management solutions allow hospitals to completely standardize all procedures and provide easily accessible training on these procedures. That way, even if someone with specialized knowledge leaves the organization, other providers can still access that information—therefore reducing the potential for mistakes due to a lack of education or knowledge. In addition, if the knowledge management solution has a powerful search engine and a mobile application, doctors, nurses, and medical technicians can access procedures at a moment’s notice while on the go.
It powers collaboration between medical professionals while protecting doctor/patient confidentiality.
Medical records are now almost entirely updated, stored, and transferred electronically, and there are obvious benefits to this transition. Doctors and specialists can easily search, share, and update medical records. It’s also much more difficult to lose an electronic medical record than it is an old tattered folder that is faxed from clinic to clinic.
With all these benefits, some medical professionals still have concerns about electronic record keeping, and for good reason. The digital transition presents new threats to patients’ privacy, the doctor/patient relationship, and doctor/patient confidentiality.
So, how do medical professionals collaborate and learn from each other’s past and present cases without violating these relationships? A knowledge management solution allows care providers to document and share symptoms, treatments, and any other information that may be helpful, all while keeping the patient anonymous. This way, potentially life-saving knowledge is not off-limits, and patient privacy remains protected.
It encourages a continuous-learning environment in your healthcare organization.
The science of medicine is constantly evolving. Every day, there are new studies, research, and drug developments—as well as updates or corrections to current research and drug trials. That means that providers can’t simply expect to acquire all necessary education during medical school; they must learn continuously to understand how to provide up-to-date, effective patient care. That’s why in many states and healthcare organizations, providers are required to earn continuing education credits every year.
While providers are individually responsible for earning those credits, your organization can build on that knowledge and infuse the spirit of continuous learning within your culture by prioritizing knowledge sharing. Through a knowledge management platform, medical providers and staff can share takeaways from their continuing education courses, as well as new research and industry developments, so others can benefit from their knowledge.
As more providers contribute to this central knowledge base, you will create a supportive learning environment that encourages education, makes learning routine, and ensures that everyone in your organization has access to the most up-to-date industry information.
It’s an essential part of digital transformation in healthcare.
Healthcare organizations adopt digital systems with the goals of enhancing patient care, improving efficiency and productivity, and minimizing the risk of errors. Many organizations began this transformation years ago with the move from paper files to electronic medical records.
But that’s not where digital transformation stops for healthcare systems. According to a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2020 Health IT Conference poll, attendees reported that one of their top digital innovation goals centered on modern collaboration, in addition to enhanced security, interoperable data, and patient satisfaction.
However, even when you pinpoint the technologies that can help you meet those goals, digital transformation can be painful and slow. Staff and providers can be resistant to change, especially when they are used to certain analog or legacy processes. To streamline the transition to a new digital tool, the tool must be easy to use and fit within staff and providers’ established workflows.
Knowledge management solutions can help healthcare organizations meet their digital innovation goals without the typical pains of new tech adoption. By enabling staff and providers to collaborate more efficiently and effectively, the organization as a whole will be able to provide better patient care and, ultimately, deliver greater patient satisfaction. And adoption doesn’t have to be a challenge; by offering a robust search function, customized feeds of information, and integration with many other existing apps, the right platform can be easily incorporated into your staff and providers’ existing workflows.
To provide quality care for the millions of patients in the U.S., the healthcare industry needs an effective, efficient way to share knowledge. With a healthcare knowledge management solution, providers and staff can stay educated on the most up-to-date industry information, share best practices for processes and procedures, and communicate past experiences and patient examples to guide other providers. Ultimately, in the wake of the digital transition in the medical field, a healthcare knowledge management solution is not optional; it’s imperative.