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Impact Of IT On Health Care Professionals: Changes In Work And The Productivity Paradox

M. A. Hebert

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Health care organizations are under increasing pressure to become more efficient while at the same time maintaining or improving the quality of care. Information technology (IT), with its potential to increase efficiency, accuracy and accessibility of information, has been expected to play an important role in supporting these changes. We report the impact of patient care information systems on health care professionals in five community hospitals. The study framework incorporated both quality of care in Donabedian's elements of structure–process–outcome and Grusec's three levels of IT impact: direct substitution, proceduralization and new capabilities. The study results suggest that, for specific tasks, IT increased efficiency and productivity—a single employee was able to complete more tasks. However, this produced other consequences not predicted. Participants noted this change did not ‘free up time’ to spend with patients, but meant there were potentially more opportunities to provide services and more tasks to complete. Other effects included: reduced job satisfaction as more time was spent on the computer; less frequent interactions with patients and for shorter duration; and an increasingly ‘visible’ accountability as performance was easily monitored. There were also changes in roles and responsibilities as the computer enabled tasks to be carried out from a number of locations and by a variety of personnel. When innovations are introduced into organizations there are both expected and unexpected consequences. Increased awareness of the interactive relationship between computer users and the technology helps organizations better understand why results do, or do not, occur. One must look beyond just simply increasing productivity by replacing manual tasks with automated ones, to examining how the changes influence the nature of work and relationships within the organization.