Are computer systems in nursing cost effective? The question is appropriate for some types of systems, specifically those that are circumscribed and well-defined. But most automated systems that impact nursing practice are large and diffuse, and do not lend themselves to cost effectiveness analysis. The author contends that cost benefit analysis is the more appropriate technique. This paper provides definitions of the terms used, and reviews documented examples of each type of evaluation. Nurses should learn when cost effectiveness analysis is appropriate and when it is not. They should also recognize that the more sophisticated a clinical system is in terms of data manipulation/management capabilities, the more expensive it will be, and the harder it will be to assign a dollar value to the benefits that accrue.
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