Delivering effective and efficient health care depends on access to accurate and timely data. Healthcare professionals in managed care and payer groups were among the first to use health informatics to mine patient outcome data to determine specific trends.1 These professionals then used that information to treat patients more efficiently and effectively. Based on those early successes, managers throughout healthcare are steadily incorporating the use of health informatics in their own organizations.
What is health informatics?
Informatics is a technology in health care that blends IT solutions with innovations in healthcare delivery, management, and planning. By using powerful analytics engines, medical informatics delves deeper into healthcare data than ever before, revealing trends and correlations that otherwise might go undetected to improve patient outcomes as well as organizational efficiency.
Patients’ medical records are the foundation of health informatics. Integrating computer science, data science, and health care, this healthcare administration specialty comprises the fields of management, public health, healthcare delivery, patient safety, analytics, and information technology. Subspecialties include bioinformatics for medical research, nursing informatics, biosurveillance for public health, and applied informatics for electronic data management.2
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How is healthcare informatics used?
Unlike health information managers, who ensure that medical records are accurate and accessible and that medical procedures are properly coded and billed, the job description for healthcare administrators in informatics calls on them to use medical information to support decisions, improve protocols, and enhance patient outcomes.
One way informatics can be used is as a screening tool for patient infection. For example, informatics specialists at the UCSF Medical Center developed a tool to mine electronic medical records to spot signs that patients may have sepsis.3 Occurring after infections, sepsis can damage major organs and, in the United States, is responsible for roughly 250,000 deaths each year.
Health plans use medical informatics to correlate patterns of treatments with outcomes to generate improvements for individuals or populations. By analyzing data from thousands of anonymized patient records, health informatics systems can categorize patient experiences by type and stage of disease, additional medical conditions (comorbidities), medications prescribed and adherence to treatment, as well as identify anonymized patients’ geographic locations, age, gender, weight, and other factors. This information is used to predict prognoses for particular patients or to predict therapies most likely to succeed under very specific conditions. Consequently, individual patients may return to health sooner, and with less expense.
This new technology can also measure patient engagement metrics between visits to a healthcare provider. In addition to patient portals, engagement tools increasingly include wearable devices, such as activity trackers and home insulin monitors, that add patient-generated data to medical records.
Informatics also helps healthcare administrators tailor incentive plans to patients. For example, plan administrators may offer reduced co-pays to select patients who attend smoking cessation programs.
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What Every Manager Should Know About Informatics
Informatics is the heart of evidence-based, value-based medicine. Healthcare professionals are increasingly turning to this mined data to support their decisions. Health informatics specialists help managers throughout the healthcare industry access the right information to produce actionable insights that can improve both therapeutic and institutional efficiency. If you are interested in learning more about health informatics and becoming part of this dynamic healthcare management field, contact Utica College to learn about its online Business Administration Masters in Health Care Management.