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Health Informatics Professor Dr. Michael Barber of USF Health

I am a Distinguished Health Professor of Molecular Medicine in the Morsani College of Medicine at USF Health. I am also the Director of the School of Biomedical Sciences and the Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs in the college of Medicine. In my roles of Director and Associate Dean, I am primarily responsible for the PhD, Master’s and Graduate Certificate programs in the Morsani College of Medicine which have a total enrollment of over 750 graduate students and 400 certificate students. I have been a federally-funded active researcher and teacher of graduate and medical students for over 30 years with a focus on biochemistry, bioinformatics and biomedical ethics. I have developed several master’s programs that focus on informatics including the MS in Health Informatics and the MS in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology in the Morsani College of Medicine.

From an operational standpoint and in your opinion, where do ethics come into play as it pertains to health informatics and do you feel any of the federal mandate may be a result of unethical behavior in handing applicable information?

We emphasize training in the appropriate ethical activities in all our graduate programs and therefore we consider ethical behavior a critical component of our student development activities. We try and expose our students to a diverse array of biomedical ethical issues in our courses to encourage students to assess their ethical viewpoints and, in the case of health informatics, help them analyze their responses to a variety of related ethical scenarios as part of their educational development and to prepare them for their future activities as health informatics professionals.

Our goal is to ensure that our students have been exposed to potential ethical issues and have had an opportunity to prepare appropriate responses prior to their employment activities. I believe we place considerable emphasis on ethics training to help our students avoid potential unfortunate situations. I believe other academic institutions also emphasize these types of activities to try and minimize the effects of federal mandates. One approach to attempt to minimize unethical behavior is to publicize events so that professionals can be aware of potential issues and formulate appropriate future behavior.

Knowing the deadline for the 2014 electronic medical records mandate, how do you think the career field and position openings in informatics might grow?

The Morsani College of Medicine has always been at the forefront of adopting appropriate technological advances in the medical field and its activities in the area of health informatics continue to reflect this position. The College has adopted and developed several programs, such as the “Paper-Free Florida” initiative to support e-prescribing and the use of EMR’s in our medical activities. As a college focused on healthcare team training, we recognized the need for a program in health informatics early on as part of our instructional goals. Various publications have cited the growth in the need and employment of health informaticians as the technology continues to develop and more applications are implemented and we believe that this will be a career that continues to grow and expand in both large and small institutions and will require increased numbers of healthcare professional to develop expertise in the various applications of e-medicine.

From an ethical standpoint, what advice might you give to a newly employed nursing informatics specialist or anyone else working in health informatics?

I consider the subject of ethical considerations in health informatics or any of the healthcare delivery fields to be very valuable and to be a continuously evolving discipline. Each graduate program within the Morsani College of Medicine features an ethics course tailored to the various disciplines and all our graduate students are required to successfully complete one of our ethics courses prior to graduation.

There are an extensive array of texts and monographs available that provide individuals with significant information about the development and evolution of medical ethics and the special considerations that can occur in the field of health information management that are important in any health informaticians career development. I like to encourage health informaticians to review current news and events in health informatics applications or delivery for potential ethical aspects and to assemble a portfolio of case studies that provide them with background material and experience in considering health informatics ethical issues. and that can test their responses to appropriate ethical dilemmas and could prove useful in any future instructional or educational endeavors. One of the components of our new M.S. in health informatics is an ethics course that involves the completion of an ethics self-assessment to help course participants identify their strengths and possible weaknesses when considering ethical issues.

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