What’s Next in Health Informatics?

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By: Dr. Jacob Krive 

Health informatics is an emerging focus of information technology (IT) that is transforming healthcare delivery in an industry notorious for its conservative approaches to IT, where the latter was perceived and utilized in a rather basic data processing capacity supporting financial and administrative organizational functions. As a newborn child of IT that was originally predicted to fail and make little difference in clinical settings, health informatics made impressive progress over the past decade. It managed to digitize clinical records, automate workflows, link data, and even become an incentive and regulatory requirement mandated by government health agencies. As one of the core components of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as ObamaCare, health informatics got close to becoming a household name under Meaningful Use portion of the government mandate to reform healthcare in the United States, and through encouragement of such technologies as patient portals, health information exchanges, and consumer health. Having made numerous differences in the clinical settings and among consumers, health informatics also managed to pique interest among clinicians, creating new professions and titles such as health informaticist, chief medical informatics officer (CMIO), and chief nursing informatics officer (CNIO). In other words, health informatics took the world of healthcare by storm: improved clinical workflows, replaced paper records, digitized medical orders, enhanced effectiveness of patient care, and helped reduce human error rates. And health IT is definitely here to stay, creating new exciting career and scientific discovery opportunities.

The question often asked about the industry is what’s next? Electronic medical records (EMR) and physician prescribing systems have been developed and rolled out by the vast majority of progressive health delivery networks and medical practices at the forefront of excellent patient care. Now that records have been digitized, productivity gains achieved, and PCs and mobile devices being commonplace in a healthcare setting, is there anything else to be achieved? Let’s call this next wave Health 2.0. Since every medical specialty and clinical process has its own computer application, the next wave will ensure interoperability and complete integration to achieve efficient data exchange and cohesive use among technologies that were sporadically introduced in a growing health technology market. This wave is the integration wave. And integration of systems leads to opportunity to “mine” data that could never in the past be tapped into, opening opportunities for analytics that is commonly referred to as Big Data in the health IT marketplace.

Data analytics helps reintroduce such commonly known science fields as population health, data warehousing, and clinical decision support, applying some of the disciplines and data analysis mechanisms developed for other fields of technology in a clinical setting. Health informatics has a huge potential to once again revolutionize care by providing clinicians with quick and comprehensive access to decision making tools that analyze evidence based knowledge, patient records, and medications databases to produce recommendations and alerts helping more effective on-the-spot decisions leading to further reductions in complications, medical errors, readmissions, mortality, and other measures of quality patient care. The next phase might help with some of the most difficult predictive analytics attributes, such as social/human behavior that is a critical factor in predicting outcomes of many medical treatments and post-discharge care processes. And merging social and clinical predictive analytics utilities with financial decision support tools may help reduce cost through not only health outcomes improvements but also more accurate forecasting of the “per patient” cost of care.

The prospects emerging from crossing multiple computer and medical science disciplines are exciting and require new training to produce highly qualified health informaticists to enter this field of information technology. While in the past healthcare industry drew professionals from all kinds of other IT backgrounds, modern health informatics complexity requires specialized training, and luckily new high-quality academic programs emerged to prepare students for exciting careers in health information technology. The field is growing and has a huge promise of making a sizable difference in human life. Learn about the University of Illinois at Chicago online Masters in Health Informatics degree at healthinformatics.uic.edu!