The growth of health informatics, meaning the practice of health information processing and the engineering of health information systems, has accelerated recently. A significant factor has been the adoption of electronic health records and the systems to manage those records – electronic health record (EHR) systems – with the “meaningful use” program motivating healthcare entities to move to get EHR working. Nonetheless, it is also important to remember that health informatics can include much more.
In general, health informatics uses health information technology to enhance healthcare through better quality and efficiency. Computer and information science are part of health informatics as well as behavioral, management and social science. While IT systems and networks are key components of health informatics, so are portable medical devices, medical terminologies (for instance, the Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine or SNOMED), clinical guidelines and electronic health and medical records.
Health Informatics Areas of Activity
Health informatics professionals contribute to improvements for patients and healthcare entities by:
- Providing information to enable medical planning and decision making
- Analyzing data for medical research, quality assurance, risk management, cost accounting and auditing
- Defining standards for electronic records and health information exchange
- Encouraging health records quality and standards compliance, including health information system privacy, security, and interoperability
- Planning for and helping to define developments in mobile health and health data analytics
The field of health informatics is now large enough to be split into several subdomains, including nursing informatics, medical informatics, pharmacy informatics, bioinformatics, pharmaceutical informatics, clinical informatics, public health informatics and patient/consumer informatics.
What Healthcare Entities Get Out of Health Informatics
The benefits of health informatics include:
- Time and cost savings. Healthcare budget wastage due to inefficient processes has been estimated to be as high as 50% of all healthcare dollars spent. Suitable application of healthcare informatics can increase efficiency and speed up operations, as EHR systems have already demonstrated.
- Increase in quality of care. Patients can be helped faster and better, raising levels of health and avoiding malpractice claims.
- Safer healthcare. Health informatics can link information such as electronic health records, electronic prescriptions and patient health status to keep healthcare on track and within limits.
- Geographical independence. Digital information can be made available to users anywhere an Internet connection is available with appropriate security.
- Patient education. Many healthcare organizations now make patient education a key part of their healthcare IT strategies. Health informatics, drawing on IT and social and behavioral science, for instance, can include the creation and distribution of patient education using a variety of media.
- Patient autonomy. With the right user authentication and authorization, patients can see their own health information, make appropriate additions and changes, and better manage their own health and wellbeing.
Contributions to Financial Advantages for Healthcare Entities
EHR systems offer many of these benefits through the storing and sharing of information from different providers and healthcare personnel involved in the care of a patient. A large part, although not all, of the work of health informatics specialists will be to upgrade existing databases and work toward achieving the different stages of “meaningful use” to allow their employers to reap the financial benefits offered by the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.
Health data analysts working with health informatics data can also help healthcare entities that are members of an accountable care organization (ACO), a healthcare organization that makes payments conditional on quality metrics and the cost of care. Information can be more accurately reported to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, allowing a healthcare entity to share in any documented financial savings realized for the Medicare program.
IT Department and Health Informatics Collaboration
Normally, IT departments work with health informatics staff, who then serve as the interface to medical and caregiving organizations. Many healthcare entities have appointed a director of health informatics, a chief medical information officer (CMIO), a chief nursing informatics officer (CNIO), or other directors in similar domains. A CMIO may then be responsible for the design and integration of technology into physicians’ workflows, whereas a CNIO may supervise the evaluation of technologies and the development of workflows for nursing teams and so on.
In the same way that IT departments respond to enterprise business needs and offer their own unique insights into applying IT to help their enterprise work better, the IT department can support health informatics groups and suggest ways of applying IT in health informatics more effectively. Much of this collaboration will center on EHR systems over the short term, but IT departments can also rapidly expect to contribute to progress in health informatics in other areas listed above.