Health informatics is revolutionizing health care, enabling clinicians to better care for patients, strengthen the provider-patient relationship, and empower patients to take charge of their own health. Combining the disciplines of computer science, engineering, and mathematics, health informatics applies information technology to the medical practice.
Telehealth is the use of IT and telecommunication technology to provide long-distance clinical care, medically related education for patients and providers, and public health administration. Technologies used in telehealth include videoconferencing, streaming media, wireless communication, the Internet, and store-and-forward imaging. This kind of informatics is especially helpful in reaching underserved populations, such as those in rural areas with little access to health care, as well as patients with limited mobility. For example, a recent Canadian study discovered that smoking cessation groups conducted via teleconferencing for rural smokers yielded quit rates similar to those of in-person groups.
2. Clinical Informatics for Medication Management
The integration of certain computer technologies into clinical medicine improves medication management and contains costs. For instance, the HELP (Health Evaluation through Logical Processing) system offers decision-support tools like the automated antibiotic consultant to help doctors choose the right antibiotic for patients. The results of one study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) on the HELP system were especially impressive, with the HELP system choosing the right medication 94 percent of the time compared to doctors’ 77-percent success rate. Likewise, the average cost of one day of the antibiotic chosen by the program was $41.08 per patient, compared to $51.93 for the doctor-prescribed medications. Doctors were also happy with the system, with 88 percent saying they’d recommend it to colleagues.
3. Computer Systems for Self-Management of Chronic Conditions
A promising new system, CHESS (Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System), allows patients with chronic conditions like cancer, HIV, alcoholism, and heart disease to use the program on their personal computers to better manage their diseases. For instance, a CHESS program for AIDS patients includes tools like patient stories, full-text articles, referrals, FAQs, and assessments of patient risk levels. The study that analyzed the CHESS AIDS program found that after a few months, patients had improved mental capacities, more active lifestyles, and lower levels of negative emotions than those receiving standard care.
4. Clinical Informatics for Best Practices
Certain informatics systems incorporate medical best practices and apply them to stored electronic patient records containing medical history, diagnoses, exams, treatments, and lab reports. Systems like COSTAR (Computer Stored Ambulatory Record) remind physicians of guidelines to improve compliance. Studies on COSTAR’s use to encourage doctors to do screenings and take preventive measures show substantial increases in compliance rates. For instance, compliance rates for cholesterol screenings rose 27 percent and Pap smear compliance rates rose 11 percent.
Health informatics is so much more than the addition of newfangled bells and whistles to the science of medicine; it helps save lives. With all the potential it holds to support providers and improve the quality of care, health informatics certainly warrants the attention of clinicians, researchers, and even patients.