1.8 million IT grant for nursing & allied healthcare students

July 2002 - DULUTH, MN – The College of St. Scholastica has been awarded $1.8 million by the U.S. Department of Education to integrate sophisticated clinical software computer systems that will include the use of mobile information technologies such as wireless networking and PDAs throughout its health science programs.

The innovative five-year project will result in St. Scholastica serving as a national model for health care educators.

“This vote of confidence on the part of the federal government solidifies St. Scholastica's place in the forefront of health sciences education nationwide,” said St. Scholastica President Dr. Larry Goodwin. “One of the difficulties health care institutions around the country face when hiring college graduates - even graduates of the finest institutions - is that the new professionals are insufficiently prepared to work with fast-evolving computer technology. This program will address that inadequacy head on. St. Scholastica will graduate health care professionals who are fluent in the use of state-of-the-art computer programs to assist in collecting and reporting data, interpreting information and making quality clinical and management decisions.”

St. Scholastica will work with Cerner Corp. of Kansas City, MO, to create and implement the clinical information software.

Cerner and the College will establish a national demonstration site for the use of computers in health care education and for sharing information to a nationwide audience in the health care and education communities.

The project will be directed by St. Scholastica faculty member Shirley Eichenwald, coordinator of the College’s Health Information Management graduate program and new Healthcare Informatics certificate programs She has been a national figure in the field for 20 years, serving in the top ranks of the American Health Information Management Association, and as a consultant.

“We will infuse extensive hands-on experience using sophisticated, integrated computer software into professional courses throughout all five of our health science programs - Nursing, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Exercise Physiology and Health Information Management,” Eichenwald said. “This comprehensive approach is unique in higher education nationwide. Our Computer Information Systems Department will also be involved because they prepare IT professionals, some of whom elect to focus on health care as the industry in which they hope to practice after completing their education.”

St. Scholastica will equip mobile computer labs with the grant money. Each lab will have 25 computers and PDAs with wireless connections to the Internet, said Lynne Hamre, director of information technology.

The project will use computer-based clinical simulations to enhance students’ competence in performing observations, treatments, and recording results, and will use specialized information systems to support their clinical problem-solving and decision making responsibilities .

The software is adapted for educational use and features anonymous patent data. Students will be able to order tests and drugs for virtual patients, and professors will offer feedback based on medical guidelines.

Students training for health care work need exposure and practice with software and computers used by future employers, said Marty Witrak, chairwoman of St. Scholastica’s nursing department and health sciences division.

St. Scholastica surveyed health care institutions around Minnesota regarding the level of their computerization, and found that they plan to intensify it significantly in the next five years.

“In fact, 95 percent of those who responded stated that the use of these specialized clinical applications will be extremely important in their organizations over the next 5 to 10 years,” Eichenwald said.

“We expect this program to serve as a magnet for aspiring health care professionals because there is no comparable computer-based integration of health sciences professional programs in the nation,” Eichenwald said.

Three Institute of Medicine reports over the past five years have recommended to the health care industry that it aggressively pursue a more integrated
and computer -based approach to their information processing and flow, she noted.

“And certainly the current HIPAA legislation and evolving regulations have also placed computer-based information systems on the health care industry's top priority list for investment over the next five years.”


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