The Role of Health Informatics in Preventing Errors in Health Care

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Baby getting a shotGraduates of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s online Master of Science in Health Informatics program are continually taking on newly created positions on the front lines of medical care in hospitals and clinics nationwide. This interdisciplinary study prepares students for the design, development and implementation of technology-based healthcare service innovations in a variety of roles. Behind every attending physician or surgical team is a group of health informatics professionals that supply clinicians and caretakers with the diagnostic information that is crucial to preventing medical errors and improving patient outcomes.

Health informatics does not strictly apply to giving providers access to timely, accurate patient information, but also to identifying, reducing and preventing medical errors. Health informatics professionals are engaged at all facets of development, production and implementation of these systems, developing entirely new ways to reduce medical errors and redundancies across all stages of care. The positive influence of health informatics technology is also well-established in healthcare administration, where new technologies are preventing errors related to billing, insurance claims and where new efficiencies are making progress in medical data, legal and insurance documentation archiving.

Contemporary EHR IT Systems

Electronic Health Record information technology, also known as EHR or EHR IT, is already demonstrating effectiveness in several arenas of medical care. While the implementation of health informatics remains varied across various facets of medicine, the desired outcome of EHR IT systems remains constant. Common uses include fact checking, streamlining workflows, reducing inefficiencies, eliminating paperwork and resolving other redundancies. While these uses of health information are increasingly commonplace, the scope of EHR IT and its potential uses in medical care continues to evolve at a rapid pace.

Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) systems are common worldwide in many inpatient facilities. These systems can crosscheck previous prescription orders with new ones, verifying accuracy against information related to medication type, dosage amounts and documented patient allergies. Errors in prescribing and distributing medicines are common, and developments in health informatics technology has helped to build order entry and dosage systems that can increase cross-checking and reduce errors.

Similarly, numerous health informatics vendors have successfully developed e-prescription programs aimed at reducing forgeries and cutting down on the illegal procurement of controlled substance prescriptions. Many such systems are already in place on a nationwide basis, and the need for professionals with a background in health informatics to administer, implement and evolve them is growing. These secure networks not only act as gatekeepers to the personal information and medical histories of a prescription drug’s rightful recipient, but also work to thwart fraud and abuse. Additionally, electronic communication of prescriptions for controlled substances streamline the prescription process by eliminating the need for pharmacy professionals to contact healthcare providers prior to the issuance of new prescriptions, a delay which can prevent immediate patient access to needed medications.

Law enforcement organizations like the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have lauded the effectiveness of e-prescription systems in preventing errors related to drug diversion and unlawful access to prescriptions, both of which are considered key challenges in the fight against prescription drug abuse.

Health Informatics in Healthcare Business & Administration

While health informatics’ gains in preventing errors at the clinical level are well documented, so too are the benefits these emerging programs are playing in the myriad administrative and financial tracking systems so commonly utilized in healthcare billing and insurance firms.

A key subset of health informatics technology–document scanning and archiving–is gaining widespread prevalence in both clinical environments and health care business administration. These systems, commonly referred to as as “scanning solutions” or “medical records digitizing,” programs are focused on the construction of central databases where once difficult-to-access documents can be easily accessed by patient and provider at a single, online location. The aim of these recently-developed technologies is to eliminate a wide variety of administrative errors and redundancy frequently encountered in:

• Registration
• Recovery
• Claims processes (by providing relevant parties access to paperwork and data related to emergency treatment)
• Surgeries and subsequent recovery past invoices
• Insurance claims
• Worker compensation forms
• X-rays

This information can all reside in one singular, easy-to-access digital archive.

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, the increasing need for EHR IT professionals and managers cannot be overstated. Health informatics systems used to encompass anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent of capital project budgets at major hospitals, a figure that’s grown to 25 percent to 30 percent in just the last few years. Hospitals foresee a future where robust health informatics systems won’t merely reduce overhead by eliminating paper-based systems, but also provide a crucial building block for data analytics and research that can propel public health initiatives.

Emerging Roles in Heath Informatics

What roles does a Master’s in Science in Healthcare Informatics prepare you for? Given the field’s rapid growth, newly emerging professional responsibilities and potential career paths are developing with each passing year.

Executive-level roles being introduced by major hospitals and healthcare organizations include Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Medical Informatics Officer (CMIO), and Chief Security Information Officer (CSIO). Such positions will be charged with not only the development and implementation of health informatics systems, but with coordinating such systems within existing organizational hierarchies. They are also responsible for managing the operations of large teams of individuals who work in the day-to-day operations of health informatics systems, ranging from high-level managers like Nursing Informatics Specialists and Network Administrators to lower-level staff like IT consultants and tech support professionals.

The more the need for health informatics technology continues to grow, the more the field’s potential benefits come to light. As these systems continue to expand in relevance and influence, so too does the need for medical professionals specializing in the field. To learn more about the advanced online programs available to you via UIC, including the Master of Science in Health Informatics, contact an enrollment advisor today.

Recommended Readings:

What do HIM professionals need to know about applied informatics?

7 interesting blogs for health informatics students


NACDS Applauds DEA Guidance on Forwarding of Electronic Prescriptions for Controlled Substances