July/August 2001

Catholic Health Initiatives Begins Building Infrastructure for Knowledge Management

Catholic Health Initiatives has begun to create an infrastructure for knowledge management – the collection, organization, storage and retrieval of useful information across the organization. "Knowledge management isn’t something new – organizations have always tried to leverage their knowledge and experience," said Bill Mitchell, MD, vice president of medical informatics for Catholic Health Initiatives, who will lead the knowledge management initiative. "What is new is that computers and library science can combine to give us the ability to capture, store and retrieve information in a very efficient way." Diana Bader, OP, senior vice president of mission for Catholic Health Initiatives, said that knowledge management has become a pressing need during the past 18 months. "The need has been identified by our resource groups, our market-based organizations and our senior leadership," she said. "It is critical that we all have a systematic way to gather, transfer, disseminate and share best practice information. This is essential to the business of health care, which is grounded in knowledge, information and skill." Benefits of knowledge management Sister Diana and Mitchell, who are members of Catholic Health Initiatives’ Knowledge Management Steering Committee, expect the knowledge management initiative to result in better stewardship of resources. "We can save time and money by coordinating and disseminating usable knowledge throughout Catholic Health Initiatives," said Sister Diana. "For example, when one market-based organization puts everything it knows about running a parish nursing program into the knowledge management database, another can retrieve it and use it to create its own program." In Catholic Health Initiatives’ concept of knowledge management, the second market-based organization would then enter its own experience with creating a parish nursing program into the database. "Knowledge is not static, but is modified and enriched by the experience and insight of those who use it," said Sister Diana. On-line library Catholic Health Initiatives’ knowledge management database will take the form of an online library. "We are investigating a number of formats," said Mitchell. "The possibilities are very broad. We want to ensure that it will be as easy as possible for individuals across the organization to contribute knowledge to and retrieve knowledge from the system." The building of the database will require participation from across the organization. "There will be opportunities for internal groups with all kinds of expertise – clinical, financial, operational, mission and so on – to populate the database with their wisdom," said Sister Diana. Starting with pilot projects Catholic Health initiatives will start the knowledge management initiative with a series of pilot projects. "We plan to conduct two or three well-defined pilot projects to see how the process works, to be sure we are setting realistic goals and to measure the impact of knowledge management," said Sister Diana. The first pilot project for knowledge management will be Catholic Health Initiatives’ National Pharmacy Program, which focuses on improved cost savings and quality of care through pharmaceutical practices. Sister Diana noted that while the knowledge management database will make volumes of expertise instantly accessible to individuals throughout the organization, it will not replace the need for one-to-one communication and learning. "Catholic Health Initiatives will still hold workshops and conferences as appropriate, because there is great value in gathering people together to learn from each other," she said. "In the future, our knowledge management initiative will enable us to take the results of each workshop or conference and enter them into the database so that they are accessible to people who could not attend." Mitchell said the initiative will also help Catholic Health Initiatives develop its ideal culture. "We want people to feel rewarded by putting information – both successes and mistakes – into the database," he said. "There is an old saying that knowledge is power, but this initiative is going to prove that shared knowledge is more powerful than hoarded knowledge."