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Knowledge Management in Long-Term Care: What You Need to Know

July 1, 2006
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        The above quote comes from Kahlil Gibran, an early 20th-century poet, philosopher, and artist. And although Gibran lived in the precomputer era, the quote is surprisingly apropos today when one is thinking about knowledge management systems and an important component of them called "digital dashboards."

The idea becomes especially germane when one is pondering the state of information technology in the long-term care industry. For many generations now, computerization in long-term care has focused almost exclusively on improving processes. But for long-term care organizations to get more out of information technology than just an adrenaline jolt to established processes, nursing home administrators need to start considering the value of knowledge management systems.

Before purchasing, implementing, and benefiting from these systems, however, nursing home administrators first need to truly understand what a knowledge management system is-and why a long-term care organization would need one. Then, to get the most out of a system, administrators need to know what features and attributes to look for.

Useful Knowledge
Basically, knowledge management systems can deliver what Gibran was looking for:
"A little knowledge that acts."

Indeed, the idea is fleshed out in some of the following commonly held definitions of a knowledge management system:

  • It is an IT system that collects, organizes, classifies, and disseminates information throughout an organization, so as to make it purposeful to those who need it.1
  • Knowledge management IT concerns organizing and analyzing information in a company's computer databases so this knowledge can be readily shared throughout a company, instead of languishing in the department where it was created, inaccessible to other employees.2
  • It combines indexing, searching, and push technology (a system whereby information on predefined topics of interest to individual computer users is delivered to their computers via the Internet) to help companies organize data stored in multiple sources and delivers only relevant information to users.3
  • Knowledge management in general tries to organize and make available important know-how, wherever and whenever it's needed.4
  • Knowledge management incorporates intelligent searching, categorization, and accessing of data from disparate databases, e-mail, and files.5

All of these definitions-to one extent or another-support Gibran's notion that knowledge people can use is so much more valuable than knowledge that simply sits idle.

Certainly, there is ample need for the dispersion of relevant, useful knowledge in long-term care organizations.

And while computer systems have for many years had the ability to capture and store information in databases, long-term care users often have experienced frustration when trying to turn that information into usable "knowledge." Searching databases and scouring through electronic files is simply too onerous to fit into the typical long-term care professional's work flow. But knowledge management systems can turn all of that miscellaneous information into practical knowledge by:

  • extracting information from databases and other electronic sources;
  • filtering information according to user profiles;
  • presenting information in concert with user preferences;
  • condensing information;
  • retrieving evidence-based reports;
  • holding current information in a single point of reference;
  • routing relevant information in a timely manner;
  • alerting users to changes; and
  • informing decision making.

Presenting information in a "dashboard display" also makes data much more useful for users. For example, such dashboards can support touch-points in long-term care work flow by consolidating real-time information on configurable, graphically oriented screens-enabling users to instantly view key performance indicators and proactively spot trends, anomalies, and exception conditions.

The dashboards make it much easier to get needed information-and turn it into actionable knowledge. For example:

  • With a standard paper or electronic report, users could be inundated with far too much information and, therefore, fail to get a handle on key performance indicators. A dashboard, however, will focus a user's attention on pertinent information.
  • With a text-heavy report, users could scan the information, glossing over important details. A dashboard, however, graphically presents the needed information in a format that makes it easy to zero in on key details.
  • With long paper or electronic reports, users might erroneously focus on the less important information, thereby ignoring crucial data. With a dashboard, users are basically forced to focus on what's most vital.
  • Dashboards make it possible to define rules across the enterprise. As a result, organizations can get all users to focus on the same indicators and variables, even though users might be viewing the information via customized dashboard displays.

The Need to Know in Long-Term Care
The advantages inherent in knowledge management systems that employ digital dashboards are obvious. What's also becoming readily apparent is that long-term care organizations now need these systems more than ever before. Why? The increased focus on quality, for one. Nursing homes are expected to deliver quality care. What's more, continued pressure from governmental agencies, quality groups, and consumers is making long-term care organizations more accountable than ever before.