Technology and healthcare always have had an uneasy relationship. On one hand, there is the promise of technology and the enhancements it offers healthcare. These include improved medical information access, streamlined reporting, automation, reduced errors and more efficient processes. On the other hand, technology has fallen short of its full potential in healthcare, as too many competing systems make integrated data difficult to obtain. Additionally, the burdens of data entry and analysis burdens overwhelm rather than streamline processes.

Healthcare faces these mistakes if it “applies” technology to organizational Knowledge Momentum (KM) without first identifying KM goals and understanding how a KM system will be used by administrators, physicians, managers, and staff. Technology facilitates knowledge exchange, but it is not the end-all to managing knowledge effectively. Technology designed to enhance the interaction among a community of similar-minded participants, such as healthcare employees, can greatly enhance the exchange of knowledge. But it is the process and culture of an organization rather than the level of applied technology that make a KM system a wealth or void of retrievable information.

An effective KM system is built on communication and education and thrives in organizations encouraging shared learning both within and outside of the hospital walls. These systems store historical knowledge and knowledge created during exchanges of information among people who are interested in learning. Knowledge management systems designed with goals in mind, versus just acquiring the most advanced technology, is what will support healthcare organizations in streamlining processes, reducing costs and improving care.

Why Knowledge Management in Healthcare?

Healthcare industry professionals are realizing that previous efforts, (e.g. searching for the elusive “best practice” and applying it as a commodity), bureaucratic and toothless performance improvement initiatives and poorly thought-out IT implementations, have not led to improved results and reduced costs. As a mindset, KM attaches importance to knowledge and identifies the value of knowledge at different levels. As a framework, KM facilitates knowledge access and transfer, which helps change behaviors and improve decisions. Knowledge management systems support healthcare workers in using available knowledge to develop organizational learning. This learning assists the employees in critiquing a compilation of practice ideas and successfully designing a customized “Best Practice” for the organization. A good KM system can help staff create and exploit new knowledge. It is capable of driving decisions, change and improvements to all levels of the organization. And, in this era of escalating costs and declining reimbursements, an effective KM system is virtually essential to a healthcare organization’s process improvement and cost reduction strategies.

Hospitals can be isolated places, which make it tough to gather ‘knowledge’. The clinical side has the measurable research and knows the outcomes, but the operational side of the hospital lacks this information. Consider this example. A hospital’s operational staff may be well aware of the increased benefit to changing one of its products used for patient care management. Nevertheless, the staff struggles when it comes to demonstrating the cost/benefit to administration and to the physicians. A KM system offers a hospital staff access to strategies and contacts so they can learn how others have successfully carried out similar situations.