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Managing knowledge in family practices takes more than technology

The field of knowledge management has bloomed largely because technologies that were supposed to harness information and make it easily available have failed to live up to expectations. The principles of knowledge management—finding, sharing, and developing knowledge—can offer medical practices a way to improve care processes and outcomes when they synthesize and integrate the information they collect.

A. John Orzano, M.D., M.P.H., of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and fellow researchers looked at 18 Midwestern family medical practices to determine if they use knowledge management principles and how the principles affect rates of preventive care services. The researchers pinpointed four practices based on their prevention service rates and innovation culture, and labeled them high performing I and II and low performing I and II. Higher performing practices tend to have manuals to assist staff members in locating health information, cultivate relationships that permit staff members to work well together, and foster dialogue that creates knowledge.

Though researchers found examples of knowledge management in every practice, differences between high- and low-performing practices were attributable more to motivation and compensation incentives than available resources, such as electronic medical records. However, they suggest that electronic medical records can be tailored to track and improve outcomes to boost the benefits of knowledge management. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS14018 and HS08776).

See "Family medical practice performance and knowledge management," by Dr. Orzano, Clare R. McInerney, Ph.D., Alfred F. Tallia, M.D., M.P.H., and others in the January-March 2008 Health Care Management Review 33(1), pp. 21-28.

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