Today’s patients typically receive medical care from a spectrum of professionals that includes their primary care physician and a number of specialists. To ensure optimal clinical outcomes, it’s crucial for these providers to work from a shared body of up-to-date information; yet, the very presence of multiple providers increases the risk of patient information being improperly or incompletely shared. Professionals with a background in healthcare informatics are uniquely positioned to address this problem.
What Is Health Informatics?
Health informatics is the use of information technology to organize and analyze patient health records. Health informatics professionals focus on the technologies, methodologies, and policies that govern health information accrual, transmission, storage, and analysis. It falls to health informatics professionals to ensure that patient data is accurately captured, securely stored and made accessible to the doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians who need it. It is a highly technical role that encompasses electronic health records (EHR) but also touches on the internal processes that healthcare organizations use to manage this sensitive data.
The health informatics role may also involve creating, developing and implementing IT-based innovations such as “wearable” technology or the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze health data. Even the standardization of medical terminology falls within the purview of the health informatics professional. As healthcare becomes an increasingly digitized industry, the role of the health informatics professional becomes more and more consequential.
For students wondering, What is health informatics? it’s important to highlight the numerous ways in which the field impacts patients, providers and administrators. Innovations such as electronic health records have become standard components of a nurse leader’s patient care strategy, which means patient outcomes and clinical efficiencies hinge on accurate and up-to-date record-keeping. In addition, patients need to know that their confidential data can be shared with the necessary providers and specialists without risk of being breached, lost or shared with unauthorized parties. Health administrators, meanwhile, rely on health informatics professionals to ensure that patient record access does not run afoul of compliance issues.
Trends in Health Informatics
Because health informatics is closely tied to technology, it’s a field that’s constantly in flux. One of the critical responsibilities of health informatics professionals is to help organizations stay abreast of changing technologies and trends.
A number of technological innovations stand poised to disrupt the health informatics field. The increased prominence of artificial intelligence continues to provide new methods of analyzing data, using machine learning capabilities to evaluate huge volumes of data that a human being cannot keep track of and extrapolating key trend lines along the way. Virtual reality provides new opportunities for the delivery of care, for instance, by allowing veterans with PTSD to face their fears in a safe, controlled environment. Telehealth offers new ways to make healthcare utilization more efficient, and it allows physicians to more easily provide care to patients in rural communities. And wearable technology provides patients with new ways to track and monitor their own health statistics to share with clinical professionals.
These technologies can be a boon to patients, ensuring that they receive care as efficiently as possible and that their medical providers are always working with accurate and up-to-date data. Yet while these changing technologies provide a number of opportunities for improving patient outcomes, nurse leaders must have easy access to health records and have the right tools and processes in place for assessing the available information. Health informatics professionals are invaluable in ensuring this access.
The Skills of Health Informatics Professionals
Health informatics professionals must develop strong technical and computer skills to optimally manage medical data. These skills must be integrated with other essential competencies, including advanced leadership and analytical and interpersonal competencies.
It’s also important for health informatics professionals to be able to provide the right kind of information technology governance. In large healthcare organizations, in particular, there will be competing priorities and various demands for technological upgrades and enhancements. A judicious health informatics program will have a formal framework in place for evaluating these competing interests and using organizational resources effectively.
The best way to develop these skill sets is through training in the health informatics field, something that Duquesne University’s online Master of Health Administration program offers. This program provides a foundation in value-based medicine and gives students the skill sets needed to design and develop systems that support a collaborative, data-driven approach to patient care. Students in the program will cultivate informatics-based core competencies through faculty-led research programs, administrative fellowships, internships, and real-world capstone projects.
Take the Next Step in Health Informatics
An advanced career in health informatics requires specialized education and experience. Consider Duquesne University’s online Master of Health Administration program, where students lay the foundation for success in this rewarding field.
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “Going Beyond the EHR: Health Care Informatics”
Healthcare Informatics Research, “Wearable Devices in Medical Internet of Things: Scientific Research and Commercially Available Devices”
Technology.Org, Healthcare: “5 Digital Trends for 2019 and Beyond”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers
Yearbook of Medical Informatics, “Artificial Intelligence in Health Informatics: Hype or Reality?”