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What Is Health Informatics?

August 05, 2019
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It is possible to generate a succinct answer to the question “What is health informatics?”; in fact, the U.S. National Library of Medicine defines the term as “the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management and planning.”1 Health informatics defined in this way, however, is almost unworkably broad: Each of these three areas of the healthcare spectrum are influenced and improved by informatics practices in their own unique ways.

Below, we’ve outlined a more thorough examination of exactly what health informatics is as a field and a profession. Read on for a brief overview of ways in which health informatics can be defined by the ways it intersects with service delivery, management and strategic planning within the healthcare industry.

Informatics and Healthcare Delivery

A useful standard for the adoption of health informatics technologies in the arena of care delivery was established as “meaningful use” of electronic health records (EHRs) by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This legislation defined meaningful use to include such patient-facing practices as the adoption of online patient portals and the electronic prescribing of medications as part of a plan to spur investment in healthcare technology by financial incentivising providers who demonstrate a serious engagement with it.2

Besides those listed above, technologies that can be defined as elements of health informatics in a delivery capacity include computer-aided detection software that can be used to provide computerized support of physician decisions, speech recognition technologies used to help standardize the content and clarity of reports, and instantaneous sharing of data and images to improve diagnostic time.3

Recent research suggests, however, that many healthcare service providers still have a way to go in fully adopting robust use of health informatics, particularly those working in private practice. Only 49 percent of private practice physicians who responded to a recent survey indicated that they had made meaningful use of health informatics technology at least once since 2011, compared to 70 percent of doctors in larger group practices and hospitals.2

How Informatics Guides Healthcare Management

Health informatics defined in a management context refers to ways in which healthcare data collection and analysis can guide the day-to-day operation of a healthcare organization. As more health organizations transition to digital record keeping, they require robust data strategies to help them manage the sheer quantity of information they generate, as well as to thoughtfully analyze it and derive sound, supported conclusions from it.

This use of informatics in healthcare management can entail a comprehensive enough approach to be labeled a data science strategy, beginning with the establishment of a well-organized central data repository and utilizing analytical tools to integrate data from disparate sources into it.4 With proper attention paid to data security and sanitization within this framework, information technology can help enable savvy management decisions that reduce costs, streamline services and improve efficiency overall for a healthcare organization.

Healthcare Planning With Informatics Technology

But what is health informatics useful for if not for enabling thoughtful, long-term planning for the future of the field? The most directly observable way in which health informatics can aid in a planning capacity is through the generation of robust, sortable health record databases. Collections of patient data, from history, background and symptoms to treatment and outcomes, can be analyzed to generate best practices guidelines that target predictably positive results in future cases.3

And in the even longer term, health information technology and data analysis can be used to inform the research that is crucial for improving the strategic application of healthcare delivery into the future.5 Healthcare administrative data can inform studies that assess the efficacy of treatment options for patients of different demographic categories, to catalog effectiveness of drug and therapeutic prescriptions over time, and to thus determine policy or strategy adjustments that can be made to improve health outcomes across broad segments of society.

Looking Forward: Health Informatics for the Consumer

Thus far, we have exclusively discussed health informatics defined in terms of its use by professionals working in the field. But what is health informatics for the average patient or consumer? Particularly in the American healthcare context, in which privatized insurance and care plan marketplaces put much of the onus of care decisions on patients themselves, informatics technologies can be utilized to improve individuals’ decision-making ability.

The next wave of health informatics may involve the creation of standardized databases derived from information collected actively or passively from patients that can be used to rank care options according to various criteria. These rankings—in categories that could include cost, quality of care, safety, efficiency or customer satisfaction—could then be visualized in a dashboard interface to help patients wade through the often dizzying array of healthcare options available to them.3


Define Health Informatics for Your Career With Kent State University

If you are a current health IT professional or someone interested in pivoting into this burgeoning field, you likely have your own answer in mind to the question, “What is health informatics?” But regardless of where you are in your career and what health informatics means to you, Kent State University offers an online graduate program in HI that is perfect for your goals.

Explore our online Master of Science in Health Informatics or our shorter-term postbaccalaureate certificate option, and start using data-driven methods to save lives today.


Sources
  1. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from himss.org/health-informatics-defined
  2. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from news-medical.net/news/20190722/Study-finds-striking-differences-in-use-of-electronic-health-records-among-physicians.aspx
  3. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3056976/
  4. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from catalyst.nejm.org/healthcare-needs-data-science-strategy/
  5. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4485511/