Appointed as Professor of Health and Human Services Informatics this October, Ulla-Mari Kinnunen still remembers a time when she, as a young messenger, would pick up a pile of patient records from the hospital’s massive archives and deliver them to medical staff in different parts of the hospital. It wasn’t uncommon for documents and X-rays to go missing or be displaced every now and then.
Since then, knowledge management in social welfare and health care has changed completely. Knowledge management refers to the documentation, editing, storage, utilisation and management of information, as well as to knowledge-based management.
Nowadays, knowledge management is based on extensive databases and technology solutions aimed at a smooth flow of information and getting rid of paper. However, when major changes are being implemented, the everything-was-better-before mentality tends to arise. Well, was everything better before?
“Knowledge management has definitely changed for the better. Information is now better accessible, but we still need a uniform structure for it. This is why one of the things we are developing is the standardisation of information in care work. We have great examples of this in Finland: we are pioneers internationally, but there is still room for improvement. The need to standardise information is not limited to the social welfare and health care sector, but applies to everywhere,” Kinnunen says.
Knowledge management is highlighted in patient safety incidents
Digitalisation and the use of artificial intelligence enable a great deal in the social welfare and health care sector, but how does technological development relate to client and patient safety? Which causes more safety incidents in care work: information systems or the human factor?
“In the end, I would say the human factor. Many information system errors are, in fact, user errors. For example, many errors are made when entering medication information in information systems: it may get recorded under a wrong patient, or in a wrong place. Knowledge management keeps getting highlighted in patient safety incidents.”
New and extensive information systems used by hospital districts are constantly criticised by medical staff, and there is plenty of room for improvement in the usability of information systems. According to Kinnunen, the solution is to include users in the development of information systems.
“It is the task of the system to support social welfare and health care professionals, not vice versa.”
The user perspective should also be taken into account for the client, so that older clients can and are able to use information systems and view their own data.
Need for investments in social welfare and health care professionals’ competence
Ulla-Mari Kinnunen’s career has led her from working as a nurse into the academia. Her interest in knowledge management dates back to her time as a young nurse, when she recorded a lot of information in systems and acted as a trainer for her work community.
When Kinnunen was completing professional development training at the University of Eastern Finland, she became acquainted with Professor of Health and Human Services Informatics Kaija Saranto and decided to apply for Master's level education in the field. Anneli Ensio, Head of the Department of Health and Social Management and a former chief nurse, was also a role model for Kinnunen.
After completing a Master’s degree, Kinnunen defended her doctoral dissertation in health sciences in 2013. She has been working as Professor of Health and Human Services Informatics since the beginning of this October, after serving as a senior lecturer.
“My role as a senior lecturer involved a lot of teaching. Now, as a professor, more emphasis is placed on research.”
The field of knowledge management in social welfare and health care is very broad, so there are plenty of topics for research. One of the key themes is social welfare and health care professionals’ knowledge management competence.
“Social welfare and health care professionals are true information professionals. They must be provided with professional development training, and even basic training, in knowledge management. The latest national curriculum for nurses also includes a good amount of knowledge management.”
Competence challenges are related, for example, to bringing together the skills of digital natives and the tacit knowledge of social welfare and health care professionals who are approaching retirement. As work becomes more technologized, Kinnunen is also concerned about the coping and well-being of employees.
“New applications and systems will be introduced in the social welfare and health care sector, and people working in the sector should be able to manage these information systems alongside their work with clients and patients. If systems don’t work, it will have a great impact on well-being at work,” Kinnunen points out.
A working group led by Kinnunen is also updating its earlier national care guideline. The work requires persistence and time, as well as systematic database searches, methodological evaluation of studies, and drafting of recommendations.
“Luckily, this is being done by a wonderful team,” Kinnunen says, pleased.
- Professor of Health and Human Services Informatics, University of Eastern Finland, 10/2021–
- Doctor of Health Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, 2013.
- Master of Health Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, 2007.
- Specialised Nurse Qualification, Kuopio Nursing College, 1989.
- Senior Lecturer, University of Eastern Finland, 2015– 2021.
- University Teacher, University of Eastern Finland, 2013– 2014.
- Amanuensis, University of Eastern Finland, 2010– 2012.
- Project Coordinator, University of Eastern Finland, 2007– 2010.
- Specialised Nurse, Varkaus Hospital, 1989-2007.
- Nurse, Kuopio University Hospital, 1986-1989.
A print-quality photo is available for download at https://mediabank.uef.fi/A/UEF+Media+Bank/44266?encoding=UTF-8. Photographer: Raija Törrönen / University of Eastern Finland.
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