Health informatics is a multidisciplinary field that uses information technology to improve the healthcare system. It aims to achieve higher quality and efficiency of healthcare procedures to make healthcare costs cheaper and healthcare services more accessible. It digs into the concepts and relationships between biomedical information and how these can be applied to practical applications. Health informatics focuses on the proper use of resources, devices, systems and methods to attain efficient acquisition, information storage, retrieval and use of information for better patient care and management. Health informatics is the use of information technology to bring out the right kind of information to the right patient at the right time (Health informatics).
Health informatics involves the following disciplines: information science, computer science, management science, behavioral science, social science and others. It uses computers, medical terminologies, information, clinical guidelines and communication systems to fulfill its purpose in medical fields such as clinical care, pharmacy, dentistry, physical therapy, public health, etc. (Mettler & Raptis, 2012).
Health informatics strives to overcome challenges in developing methods and tools to process information for diagnostics, early recognition and prevention and therapy and therapy simulation. In addition, health informatics strives to overcome challenges in health consulting and reporting, compensating physical handicaps, documenting of medical knowledge and knowledge-based decision-making (R, 1997).
The study of health informatics aims to educate individuals to be effective users, managers and developers of health information resources. With proper collection, storage and communication of these information resources, healthcare providers can make better administrative and clinical decisions that ultimately yield better care, outcomes and processes.
Patient information collection, recording, retrieval, and the entire medical profession would still depend on the supply of paper and pen if not for the birth of health informatics. In 1949, a German physician named Gustav Wagner founded the German Society for Medical Documentation, Computer Science and Statistics, the world’s first professional informatics organization. After a year, many healthcare professionals and healthcare establishments worldwide embraced the use of computers. In the 1960s, Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands pioneered specialized university departments and informatics training programs. In the 1970s, the United States and Poland revolutionized medical informatics research. Since then, high-caliber research in health informatics, education and infrastructure has been one of the top priorities in the implementation of health programs in the European Union and United States (NYU CENTER FOR HEALTH INFORMATICS AND BIOINFORMATICS).
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) established the first standards in healthcare data reporting. The data reporting included electronic healthcare system properties, laboratory data and message exchange, health information security system and data content. Following this milestone in the development of healthcare-centered information technology, healthcare informatics dramatically improved over the years, with pharmacy and radiology standardized data exchange protocols fast catching up. Today, pharmacy informatics and imaging informatics are two unique specialty studies under the umbrella of health informatics (A Brief History of Health Informatics).
Health informatics professionals still face the challenge of achieving interoperability between different formats to make information available across all areas of the healthcare sector. Healthcare organizations have no choice but to avail custom programming solutions to make dissimilar systems compatible for information exchange. Individuals who have ample knowledge of and training in both technology and patient care standards have a big opportunity in this continuously evolving and improving new branch of informatics (A Brief History of Health Informatics).
Healthcare informatics is a rapidly evolving discipline caught in the intersection of rapidly changing fields. Some people view the field as an engineering and management discipline, while others see it as a science that may be both theoretical and applied. Health informatics comprises three basic components: (1) health information technology, (2) health information administration and (3) clinical informatics.
Health Information Technology
Health Information Technology provides an ideal medium for the secure and efficient exchange of medical information in an electronic environment among healthcare providers, patients, insurers and other legitimately involved parties. With its widespread use, people can expect an improvement in quality and administrative efficiencies; reduction in medical errors, paperwork and costs; and better access to affordable healthcare delivery. However, it is imperative to preserve the privacy and security of the electronic health information transmitted across various medical practices (Health Information Technology).
Health Information Administration
Health Information Administration comprises two basic elements: business administration and computer technology-integrated medical record keeping. It involves a diverse range of studies which includes technical communications, accounting, basic medical terminology, medical coding, statistical analysis, legal issues and ethics. Its application involves health information service, clinical record-keeping, patient information management, patient data analysis, medical coding and compliance and insurance analysis (Health Information Administration).
People who specialize in health information administration are called health information administrators. These experts design and manage healthcare information systems to meet medical, legal and ethical standards. They also supervise computer information systems, collect and analyze patient information records and use classification guidelines and medical terminologies. However, unlike health information technicians, health information administrators also oversee record departments and serve in the business administration.
Clinical Informatics bridges the gap between computer technology, research and medical skills and other technical aspects of health informatics. Experts in clinical informatics use their experience in biomedical informatics to solve problems in the various domains of healthcare.
Clinical informatics encompasses a wide scope of topics ranging from clinical support, decision-making, visual imaging, etc. These topics play a center role in medical specialties such as dermatology, pathology, ophthalmology and radiology. It also includes clinical documentation of information and order entry systems, system design, implementation and adoption issues.
Clinical informatics experts are not only expected to be proficient in computer programming, they should also know about human anatomy and other basic fields in medicine. They are highly trained healthcare professionals in healthcare administration and management as well (Clinical Informatics).
Tools & Techniques
Health informatics would not exist without computers. Computers tend to work like human brains: They store a bulk of medical information in an organized fashion (Weber & Swink, 2014). Hospitals that serve more than 100,000 populations needs to keep not only a few hundred thousand patient names, but also millions of patients’ information, clinical data, medical history, and past disease medications and management. Computers allow healthcare practitioners to store patient information without taking up too much physical space. Healthcare personnel can access and retrieve certain patients’ information, medical history and other important data within just a few minutes of search using the computer database.
Clinical guidelines greatly influence the quality of care given to patients. They serve as the blueprint for formulating, developing and customizing the right kind of health informatics system suited for a healthcare establishment’s needs. In return, health informatics systems provide practitioners and their patients with access to the clinical guidelines and other essential information that leads to best practices within the hospital setting (Duff & Casey, 1998).
Standardized medical terminologies, clinical vocabularies and coding system serve as the main “language of health” for the global use of health informatics systems. Using a common computerized medical language, health professionals around the world can make use of standardized electronic data collection, retrieval and reuse of clinical information. These are universally understandable regardless of users’ nationality, ethnicity or language (Medical terminologies, nomenclatures, coding and classification systems: an introduction).
The Internet serves as the health informatics medium of information exchange between healthcare institutions. Internet-based health informatics applications expedite the transfer of data and clinical information because they eliminate the need to physically hand out and data for others to receive it (Eysenbach & Jadad, 2001).
Six basic standards govern the best practices of health informatics (Health Informatics Pathway Standards & Accountability Criteria, 2012):
Communication of accurate medical or health information with the legal or regulatory bounds with a healthcare organization is one of the core components of best practices in health informatics. The transfer of information must always be accurate, effective and timely. The information should be delivered to the right organization at the right time. The transfer of sensitive patient data and other medical information must abide with the legal and regulatory guidelines while upholding the strictest standards of information confidentiality.
Analysis of pertinent medical information and other patient data for a designated purpose is an essential qualitative and quantitative requirement of health informatics. Through the assessment and proper synthesis of information, healthcare professionals can determine the best course of action relevant to the data presented. Health informatics experts and healthcare providers can determine which health information can be shared with patients, healthcare personnel and the community. Through standard analysis, they can appraise the accuracy and completeness of data and whether the information they have gathered is reported and disseminated within the regulatory and legal bounds.
Abstracting and Coding
Health informatics professionals should know the basic and advanced principles of reading and interpreting medical records and other medical documents. They should also be able to apply their knowledge of medical codes and terminologies. By following the standards of health informatics, these experts are expected to extract pertinent medical record information and other related documents for a wide range of purposes. Through the health informatics experts’ proper abstracting and coding, medical record personnel can easily extract accurate and appropriate information for billing and reimbursement purposes. Medical professionals can choose the medical terminology for a patient’s health problem and then the healthcare organization can evaluate and apply that information for legal and regulatory purposes.
Health informatics experts are responsible for securing the resources as well as establishing and maintaining the flow of all the medical information within a healthcare system. They should ensure a user-friendly information system and analyze how the system interacts to bring about a timely and accurate flow of information. Health informatics professionals should also organize and integrate information for a timely and accurate dissemination of medical information. They should always evaluate the effectiveness of the system make recommendations for any possible improvement.
Health informatics professionals should have a good grasp of the diverse uses of health information. They should convey such information in a way that is within the scope of legal and regulatory processes. To meet this objective, health informatics professionals should learn how to document and assemble the required information, interpret the collected information and understand the purposes of information collection. They should learn how to prepare documentations for regulatory and legal purposes. They should also learn how to impart accurate information to different kinds of audiences using standard systems, guidelines and evaluations, and recommend system processes for possible improvement.
Health informatics experts should have a thorough understanding of the broad scope of operations in which healthcare services are administered. They should know how the system works efficiently and accurately. They should also know how to retrieve and maintain patient information from internal and external sources. Health Informatics professionals are responsible for analyzing the information collected from internal and external sources. They are responsible for projecting possible outcomes from the interconnected components of an established healthcare system and selecting the appropriate systems and information for a particular task. Health informatics professionals are also responsible for participating in the design of needed processes and operational systems and evaluating such systems and processes for possible improvements.
The main goal of using health informatics in the medical field is to improve the overall health status and healthcare management of patients. This can be achieved through integration of basic medical science and engineering insights with the help of useful applications (RB, 1997). Using health informatics in hospitals, public surveillance, emergency responses, nursing care, health preservation and healthcare administration can help properly collect, assess and improve better patient care delivery and management (Savel, T, & Foldy, 2012). Through the close collaboration between healthcare professionals and health informatics experts, new insights in the clinical practice can be appreciated. More efficient and effective use of health informatics can lead to the advancement of healthcare practice and clinical care (P, E, R, B, G, S, & E, 2004).
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