Six Things Only a Health Informaticist Would Understand

Health informatics professionals blend healthcare with IT to help improve patient care. They are critical to the management and delivery of patient information.

Professionals in the health informatics industry are well versed in IT, healthcare and IT security. They use their knowledge to disseminate huge amounts of data relating to patient information and care. Usually these professionals have medical coding backgrounds. Other responsibilities include:

  • Deciphering and interpreting data to make smarter decisions
  • Coming up with new healthcare solutions driven by data
  • Inventing tools used to track and record different patient processes and data
  • Communicating between different departments within the healthcare system to reduce consultation costs

Health informatics professionals also are responsible for the organization and security of medical history and patient test results.

Here are a half-dozen bits of information that may not be common knowledge, but are facts of work life to a health IT professional.

1.If You’ve Seen One Hospital, You’ve Only Seen ONE

Health informatics professional Donn Wurts says each hospital needs to be treated as a separate entity. “If you have seen one hospital, you’ve seen one hospital.”  He says hospitals have all developed in unique ways with their own processes, engagement methods and facility layouts. Wurts adds that the systems and solutions needed to service individual hospitals vary depending on location.

2. The True Value of Health Informatics Shines During a Crisis

Wurts said health information technology and its systems aren’t often thought about until something goes wrong. “All computer systems are susceptible to crashes and downtimes,” Wurts said. “However, when it happens in hospitals it takes a special toll on day-to-day processes of the healthcare delivery ecosystem. Health IT’s unique value can, unfortunately, only fully be appreciated when it’s not working as it should be.”

The stakes are high and health IT success affects much more than computer systems, according to Wurts. The work of health informatics professionals has real ramifications for patients. “You can recover a transaction, you can’t recover a life,” Wurts said. “The work clinical IT people do has an impact, both good and bad. The diligence in understanding what you are doing and who it will directly impact needs to be understood.”

3. Computer Literacy is a Cause for Concern

Many healthcare professionals aren’t as computer literate as you’d think. Margreet B. Michel-Verkerke of Saxion University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands conducted a survey gauging computer literacy in a nursing home before implementing electronic health records (EHR).

The 18-item questionnaire included 12 items considered essential to successfully operate the EHR. A daunting 73% of the respondents did not correctly answer all 12 essential keys and skills, and 35% recognized fewer than six of the items.

4. The Bad and the Ugly

Health informatics professionals use health IT constantly to complete their jobs. While health IT technology and EHR do wonders for streamlining practices and making healthcare more efficient, they still come with problem areas that have real implications for patients. Transactions can be recovered, but critical errors resulting in problems such as the wrong medication could mean the difference between life and death.

Here are a few of the pitfalls of which health informatics professionals need to be mindful:

  • HIPAA violations
    EHRs deal with confidential patient information. Consolidating sensitive documents in a single place attracts attention from criminals trying to pirate the information. To combat this, many systems use tracking technology to monitor who accesses patient information and when they do it.
  • Incorrect data fields
    Most EHR systems allow for auto-population of data to streamline the information inputting process. Problems arise when the wrong patient information is populated and goes unchecked. An eye for detail is needed to prevent complications from arising due to incorrect patient information slipping through the cracks in HER.
  • Copying and pasting
    Copy and paste saves time for physicians as they enter data. Serious problems arise, however, when the wrong type of information is copied (such as Social Security numbers, addresses, etc.) and left unchecked. It’s the responsibility of the technician inputting data to be mindful of sensitive patient information, taking care not to copy and paste data that could compromise someone’s identity

5. The HL7® Standard

Effective healthcare requires sending, receiving and exchanging data with other computer systems, offices, and state and federal agencies, many using different computer systems with different languages, all with different requirements. Health Level Seven (HL7) is an organization focused on the collection of universal medical protocols. Founded in March 1987, HL7 is made up of healthcare providers, software vendors and consultants. HL7 seeks to streamline the implementation processes between computer and healthcare interfaces. HL7 protocols are responsible for everything from verifying a patient’s coverage, to submitting insurance forms and even sending information to the correct HMO.

6. Success Requires Patience, Agility and Vision

Usually applications are designed for common cases in the healthcare industry. The major problems arise when the rare exceptions occur. Whatever works most of the time is probably good for most consumer-grade applications, but uncommon problems are where the danger truly lies. Planning for the unusual involves an entirely different design philosophy for applications, and that outside-of-the-box mentality is something health informatics professionals should always apply as they tackle the challenges of the healthcare and IT industries.

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