The US National Library of Medicine cites Dr. Procter, who defines health informatics as “the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management and planning” . One of the main goals of health informatics is to improve the quality of healthcare by making it more efficient and less expensive. But what exactly does efficiency in healthcare look like and what areas of medicine can be improved through health informatics? Students in the online health informatics program at UIC are thinking critically about these questions as they attempt to answer them and help make the healthcare process easier for patients.
Health Care Efficiency
According to the RAND Corporation, 2005, “efficiency savings result when the same work is performed with fewer resources.” As hospitals and doctors’ offices increase their use of health informatics, potential efficiency savings for inpatient and outpatient care can average in the tens of billions of dollars per year. Healthcare organizations see the largest savings when they are able to reduce the length of hospital stays and are able to enact more efficient drug utilization.
Increased Patient Safety
Along with increasing efficiency in healthcare, health informatics allows caregivers to increase patient safety in several ways. IT-based innovations help doctors by storing information in computers that they otherwise would have to remember themselves or search for in multiple paper documents. When it comes to reminders, computers are less error prone than humans.
Computers now can alert and remind caregivers that it’s time for a patient to take medication. They also help notify caregivers of possible complications when mixing one medication with another.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, medication errors harm nearly 1.5 million patients in this country each year . Finding ways to reduce or eliminate these errors are a top priority for healthcare providers.
The use of information technology like “drug-dispensing robots and automatic dispensing cabinets,” along with pharmacist oversight, can lead to the reduction of medication errors . This technology can come in the form of computerized physician order entry, automated dispensing and electronic medication reconciliation.
Electronic Health Records
Over the past few decades, healthcare providers have been converting paper health records to electronic health records. The idea is that information in a computer can be accessed faster and used to collate data for better analysis than paper records . Also, with such vast amounts of information in databases, this information may be collected, analyzed and trended so doctors can better understand the disease status of their patients.
Electronic health records allow for a more seamless flow of information, which can transform the way care is delivered. With a more complete health record at their disposal, providers improve their ability to make intelligent treatment decisions quickly and safely.
The goal of efficient healthcare is not new; it’s been around as long as patients have been visiting hospitals. but the use of information technology make healthcare more efficient and effective is only limited by the capacity of our minds and resources. The use of health informatics can increase patient safety in a number of ways. By using electronic health records to make the process of prescribing and administering medications more accurate, we potentially reduce the numbers of patients harmed by medication errors. Health Informatics is a relatively new field that is increasing the quality of patient care and reducing costs associated with healthcare.
 Procter, R. Dr. (Editor, Health Informatics Journal, Edinburgh, United Kingdom). Definition of health informatics [Internet]. Message to: Virginia Van Horne (Content Manager, HSR Information Central, Bethesda, MD). 2009 Aug 16 [cited 2016 July 20].