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Empowering Nurses With Data

Florence Nightingale's ability to translate statistics into improved outcomes forever changed nursing-and the world.

As we all know, Florence Nightingale, "the Lady with the Lamp," is the founder of modern day nursing. But something many do not know is that she was also a pioneer in the visual representation of data, i.e., graphs.

During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale developed graphs to convey complex data about mortality rates to Members of Parliament.

Her intent was to help them understand, without having to look at volumes of statistics, the effect of the horrid sanitary conditions at a British army hospital near Constantinople.

At this hospital, more deaths were occurring from preventable illness and infections than from injuries sustained in battle.

Her ability to process data, and use that information to make changes to improve outcomes helped reduce the hospital's mortality rate by two-thirds.

That's what "actionable data" is all about!

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Nursing is and always will be a care-based profession.

Study after study shows that the compassion nurses bring to the bedside-the time they take to hold a hand, talk with family members, etc.,-is crucial to the patient's recovery.

At the same time, nursing is a metrics-based reality. Nursing today is synonymous with technology.

Likewise, nursing and data go hand in hand.

As software design has improved and the interfaces have become more intuitive, data can be put into the hands of front-line managers with much greater ease and timeliness.

Florence Nightingale may have had a knack for processing data and making it easy to understand, but the process was not timely. What took her weeks can now be achieved with the click of a mouse.

The Keys to Actionable Data

Data must be Transparent and Accessible
The main idea here is that data should be accessible from a single source to aide in decision support. It does no good for one department to keep data locked away deep in a database. Instead, every department that needs access to data should have access to data. While it's true that, for instance, Finance owns productivity data, and HR owns credential data, that information must be transparent and accessible. We refer to this sharing of data as "a single version of the truth."

Data must be Easy to Comprehend
Once data is able to be accessed it must be easy to decipher, like Florence Nightingale envisioned. This necessitates business intelligence tools that facilitate decision support. Dashboards are an example of this. Dashboards, if designed well, can display an enormous amount of data in a meaningful and easy to understand, graphical format.

Data must be Timely
Data must be accessible and easy to understand, but if it is not timely it is not all that actionable. Data must be in the hands of the people in the best position to make the necessary adjustments to achieve their organizational goals as soon as possible, i.e., the second they need it. Managers must be able to see where they are and have a clear idea of what adjustments they can make to keep their units on track.

Using Data to Bridge Gaps

To be effective, the different departments within a hospital or health system must work together to make sure that data is accessible, easy to understand, and timely. Further, because something is easy to understand does not mean it is understood and acted upon.

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For instance, Finance must work with Nursing to ensure they know what to do with the productivity data they have access to.

Not everyone is naturally data savvy, but everyone is capable of learning what the data is conveying and understanding what actions to take to improve outcomes.

We refer to this as "bridging the gap."

"Gaps" occur naturally in organizations due to the mental, cultural, and physical divides that separate one department from another.

With different departments, e.g., Finance, IT, HR, Nursing, located on different floors, buildings, or even different campuses, the very design of health systems creates the opportunity for gaps.

At work, just like in life, the key to being able to bridge the gap is the ability to find common ground.

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Within every organization there is a single commonality that should unite all departments.

In healthcare, that commonality is the desire to provide excellent care. Every department has a role in this.

Every department has tasks it must complete and cooperation it must provide if other departments are to play their role in helping the system fulfill its mission and achieve its goals.

For Finance and Nursing, that goal relies on the sharing of data, understanding what the data means, and then acting on that data to improve outcomes.

With all the focus on "big data" and what it can do to improve healthcare, let's take a minute this National Nurses Week to remember that Florence Nightingale was more than the founder of modern nursing, she was a pioneer in making data actionable in nursing.

Jackie Larson is senior vice president of client services at Avantas, an Omaha, Neb.-based provider of comprehensive healthcare consulting and scheduling software designed to effectively manage labor enterprise wide.

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