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Medical Web Sites May Improve Nursing Home Care

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By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala

Medical Web sites could be key to improving the quality of care at nursing homes, a new University of Central Florida study found.

While sites such as WebMD.com have rapidly become popular with Americans, they have not been integrated well into care at nursing homes, UCF doctoral student Gerald-Mark Breen and Assistant Professor Ning Jackie Zhang reported. Such technology would help nursing homes meet the increased demand for care at a time when many states lack the funding to raise or even maintain staffing levels. 

"E-health could improve nurses' knowledge and skills and ameliorate deficiencies," Breen said.

About 2 million Americans live in 18,000 nursing home care facilities, and that population is expected to double by 2020. But because of widespread economic troubles, funding for nursing home care isn't likely to improve at either the state or national levels.

"We're not saying e-health will fix everything," Breen said. "But given the recent developments and funding crisis, we suggest this will help while we figure out how to properly fund and staff nursing home care facilities."

The UCF analysis looked at nursing home staffing levels, staff training, the daily demands on staff and the current and potential future funding available for facilities. 

The researchers' conclusion is that sites such as WebMD.com could help nursing home professionals respond to the daily needs of their patients and thus improve their care. The findings are published in the April issue of the Journal of Medical Systems.

Several Web sites have the potential to help staff better care for patients. They include Medlineplus.gov, Medscape.com and mentalhelp.net, Breen said.

"I hope my research will improve the efficiency, outcomes, and integrity of nursing homes across the country," he said. "With the introduction of telemedicine and e-health resources, I hope that improved care and greater access to important medical information will result. 

Breen joined the Doctoral Program in Public Affairs in 2007. He previously had a teaching position at the University of Texas - Pan American. He earned his master's degree in communication from the University of Oklahoma, and he is working as a research assistant for Thomas Wan, the doctoral program director. His doctoral work at UCF focuses on health care administration and medical care.

The co-author of the paper, Zhang, is a medical doctor, assistant professor of public affairs and the director of the Informatics Research Lab at UCF. He also is the research associate for a National Institutes of Health grant at UCF that focuses on nurse staffing and nursing home quality. 

For a look at the abstract of the study, go to http://www.springerlink.com/content/w7xun802225162l6/?p=05ceced7f169416d8385d8d6b65dd2fc&pi=0

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